Finger Fracture

A fractured (broken) finger is usually the result of a trauma, such as a fall on an outstretched hand, a punch, or slamming the finger in a door. There are 14 bones in total in the fingers (phalanges) of each hand, each of which is susceptible to fracture. A broken finger typically results in pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising. Moving the injured finger may be difficult, and it may look deformed. These symptoms usually develop immediately at the time of the injury.

Signs of a Finger Fracture

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a finger is fractured because similar symptoms may occur from other injuries. The following symptoms at the site are possible indicators of a broken bone in the finger:

  • Severe, persistent pain, especially when touched
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty bending the joints
  • Deformity of the finger
All of these symptoms may be the result of other problems, including infection, dislocation, or tendon injury. It is important to consult a physician for a definitive diagnosis because the treatments for these conditions vary and improper treatment may lead to permanent disability.

Diagnosis of a Finger Fracture

X-rays are necessary to determine not only whether there is a finger fracture, but the nature and severity of that fracture. The doctor must determine whether the fracture involves a joint, and, if so, whether the joint surfaces are in alignment. The X-ray will also allow the doctor to determine whether the fracture is unstable, that is, likely to slip out of its correct position. Finally, the doctor has to assess any possible deformities of the finger, such as inappropriate rotation or shortening. All of this information is important in determining how the fracture is to be treated.

Treatment of a Finger Fracture

In spite of the fact that a finger fracture appears to be, and often is, a minor injury, in some cases, improper treatment can lead to long-term dysfunction of the hand. Treatment of a finger fracture is designed not only to alleviate symptoms, but to ensure that permanent damage does not result.

In most situations, a finger fracture can be treated nonsurgically. Typically, a splint or small cast is used to keep the finger in a straightened position while it heals. Sometimes, with more minor injuries, it is possible to use an adjacent finger as a splint, a process known as "buddy taping." Healing of a fractured finger usually takes 3 to 4 weeks.

When a broken finger is out of its normal position (dislocated), the deformity must be corrected to prevent permanent disfigurement or dysfunction. This procedure is normally performed under local anesthesia. Once the area has been completely numbed, the doctor can manipulate the finger to correct its position. If the deformity is severe, however, surgery may be necessary. During the surgical procedure, the broken bones are realigned, fixed in place with surgical hardware. After surgery, a cast is used to keep the bones immobilized as they heal.

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