Broken Finger

Written by Verneda Lights and Marijane Leonard | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Your fingers contain 14 bones called phalanges (singular form: phalanx). A broken (fractured) finger means a break in one or more of these bones. It is usually caused by an injury to the hand. Finger fractures can occur in any of the phalanges.

The order of your phalanges is: the proximal phalanx (closest to the palm), middle phalanx, and distal phalanx (farthest from the palm). Your thumb does not have a middle phalanx. Fractures can also occur in your knuckles, which are joints where bones meet. The distal interphalangeal joint is farthest from your palm. The knuckle in the middle of each finger is the proximal interphalangeal joint. The lower bone of your finger meets a bone in your palm at the metacarpophalangeal joint.

What Causes a Broken Finger?

Fingers have the highest risk for injury of all the parts of the hand. Your hand can be injured while working with tools such as a hammer and saw. Fast-moving objects that hit your hand (such as a baseball) and slamming your hand in a door can also break fingers. Broken fingers can also occur when putting out your hands to break a fall or when throwing a punch.

Whether a fracture occurs depends on the nature of the injury and the strength of the bone.

Conditions such as osteoporosis and malnutrition increase your chances of getting broken fingers.

What Are the Different Types of Broken Fingers?

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, there are a nearly infinite number of combinations of types of hand fractures. (ASSH) The following terms may be used to describe a broken finger:

Method of Fracture

  • avulsion fracture—a ligament or tendon and the piece of bone it is attached to pulls away from the main bone
  • impaction fracture—the broken ends of your bone are driven together
  • shear fracture—your bone splits in two because a force causes it to move in two different directions

Skin Involvement

  • open fracture—the bone breaks through your skin
  • closed fracture—your skin remains intact

Bone Position

  • nondisplaced (stable) fracture—the bone cracks slightly or completely but does not move
  • displaced fracture—the bone breaks into separate pieces that move and no longer line up
  • comminuted fracture—a displaced fracture in which the bone breaks into three or more pieces

Who Is at Risk for a Broken Finger?

Weak bones have an increased risk of fracture. The elderly and people with calcium deficiency are at risk for broken fingers. Athletes and manual laborers have increased risk for broken fingers because of their activities. Sports that increase risk for broken fingers are:

  • skiing
  • basketball
  • baseball
  • football
  • wrestling
  • snowboarding
  • hockey
  • rugby
  • inline skating
  • boxing

Automobile accidents can also cause broken fingers.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Broken Finger

Symptoms of a broken finger include pain, swelling, and tenderness. Your finger might also look misshapen or out of alignment (deformed). Broken fingers may be very painful, especially when you try to move them, but sometimes the discomfort is dull and tolerable. The absence of extreme pain does not mean that the fracture is mild or that it does not require medical attention.

How Is a Broken Finger Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of finger fracture begins with your doctor taking your medical history and doing a physical examination. X-rays of the finger will usually make clear whether your finger is fractured.

How Is a Broken Finger Treated?

A broken finger is treated according to where the fracture is located and whether it is stable. Taping the fractured finger to an adjacent intact finger may treat a stable fracture. Unstable fractures require immobilization. After the fracture is aligned (reduced), a splint can be applied. Surgery is used to stabilize the fracture when you have:

  • multiple fractures
  • loose bone fragments
  • a joint injury
  • damage to the ligaments and/or tendons
  • unstable, displaced, or open fractures
  • an impaction fracture

An orthopedic surgeon or hand surgeon will determine the best treatment approach when a broken finger is complicated. Pins, screws, and/or wires are used in surgical procedures for broken fingers. Proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of broken fingers help to preserve hand function and strength and prevent deformities.

How Can Broken Fingers Be Prevented?

Proper diet containing adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium can help keep bones healthy and less prone to fracture. People who have difficulty walking and are likely to fall can do physical therapy and use assistive devices such as a cane or walker to help them move around safely. Athletes and laborers should exercise care to prevent finger fractures—although prevention really depends on the specific sport/job in question.

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