The weather is warming up and many people are out enjoying the spring and summer sports seasons! Among the most common sports injuries you are likely to see is the dreaded “jammed” finger. This painful experience can also occur in a number of settings outside of recreation. Learn more about this injury so you can get back in the game as soon as possible.
How does a jammed finger happen?
Jammed fingers occur when your finger sustains a blow to the fingertip; the force of the blow travels down the finger, and one of the joints in the finger absorbs the force of the blow. Each of your fingers are made of three joints. The joint most commonly affected is the middle joint in your finger, which is located between your knuckle and the joint closest to the fingernail.
What does a jammed finger look like?
When you have a jammed finger, it can result in swelling, pain, and difficulty moving the injured finger and joint because of the pain. The entire finger can become swollen but may be more swollen at the affected joint. You may also notice bruising throughout the finger.
When do I need to get a medical evaluation?
Jammed fingers occur frequently and are usually minor injuries, but they can be confused with more serious orthopedic injuries. By definition, a jammed finger is not as serious as a broken finger or a tendon/ligament rupture. Pay attention to the following warning signs to see if you may have a more serious underlying condition:
- Unable to straighten the end of the finger. A tendon rupture called a “mallet finger” happens by the same mechanism of injury like a jammed finger. When a ball, or another force, acts on an outstretched fingertip, it snaps the tendon closest to the impact. In addition to the swelling, mallet finger injuries appear as a bent or dangling joint at the fingertip. Special treatment by a healthcare provider is needed for this injury to heal properly.
- Unable to bend the mid-finger joint. If you are unable to move your finger or the affected joint, you should see your healthcare provider for further evaluation.
- Loss of sensation/numbness or paleness in the finger (loss of circulation). There should at no point be a loss of feeling in any part of the finger.
- The abnormal angle of the finger. The bones of the finger should all appear inline without any odd angles. Although jammed fingers can result in significant swelling, there should be no deformities in the finger.
- Loose or unstable finger joint. Ligament injuries may also require medical evaluation and can be identified by laxity in the joint. If a finger joint feels loose, or like it moves a bit toward the side rather than back and forth, you should get treatment.
- Pain/swelling that does not resolve after two days or worsens at any time. Do not delay seeking treatment, since there may be more permanent damage or loss of function of the finger. If the finger is still noticeably painful after two days, you should also see a healthcare provider.
- Prolonged joint issues. Occasionally, prolonged joint issues such as chronic inflammation in the joint tissues or clicking or loss of smooth movement of the joint can result from a jammed finger. If you notice these issues during healing, you should see a healthcare provider.
What can I do for a jammed finger?
The swelling and bruising from a jammed finger will gradually improve one week after an injury. Full range of motion of the finger should also return during that time. After an injury, keeping the finger elevated and applying a cold compress wrapped in a towel for 15 minutes at a time can help reduce swelling. A splint may be helpful to protect the finger from re-injury, but it is otherwise unnecessary for healing.
Children’s Hospital Colorado, “Finger Injury,” 2000.
Handcare, “Jammed Finger,” American Society for Surgery of the Hand, 2015.
Jeffrey Leggit and Christian Meko, “Acute Finger Injuries: Part I. Tendons and Ligaments,” American Family Physician 73, no. 5 (2006).
Samir Joshi, “Digit dislocation reduction,” UpToDate, October 24, 2019.
Tom Miller and Nikolas Kazmers, “Should I Worry About a Jammed Finger?,” The Scope, March 24, 2021.