The bones in your fingers are called phalanges. Each finger has three phalanges, except the thumb, which has two phalanges. A broken, or fractured, finger occurs when one or more of these bones breaks. A break is usually the result of an injury to the hand. A fracture can occur in any of the phalanges. Fractures can also occur in your knuckles, which are the joints where your finger bones meet.
Fingers have the highest risk of injury of all the parts of the hand. You can injure your finger while working with a tool, such as a hammer or a saw. Your finger can break when a fast-moving object hits your hand, such as a baseball. Slamming your hand in a door and putting your hands out to break a fall can also cause you to break your finger.
The nature of the injury and the strength of the bone determine whether a fracture occurs. Conditions such as osteoporosis and malnutrition increase your chances of breaking a finger.
According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the number of combinations of types of hand fractures is infinite. The following terms describe how broken fingers are categorized:
Method of fracture
- In an avulsion fracture, a ligament or tendon and the piece of bone it attaches to pull away from the main bone.
- In an impacted fracture, the broken ends of a bone drive into each other.
- In a shear fracture, the bone splits in two when a force causes it to move in two different directions.
- In an open fracture, the bone breaks through your skin and creates an open wound.
- In a closed fracture, the bone breaks but your skin remains intact.
- In a nondisplaced fracture, or stable fracture, the bone cracks slightly or completely but doesn’t move.
- In a displaced fracture, the bone breaks into separate pieces that move and no longer line up.
- A comminuted fracture is a displaced fracture in which the bone breaks into three or more pieces.
People with weak bones, such as older adults or those with a calcium deficiency, have an increased risk of fracture. Also, people who work with their hands, such as athletes and manual laborers, have an increased risk of broken fingers. Sports that increase risk for broken fingers are:
High-impact events, such as automobile accidents, can also cause broken fingers.
The symptoms of a broken finger include the following:
- limited range of motion
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 doesn’t mean that the fracture doesn’t require medical attention.
Diagnosis of finger fracture begins with your doctor taking your medical history and doing a physical examination. X-rays of the finger will usually indicate whether your finger is fractured.
Treatment for a broken finger depends on the location of the fracture and whether it’s stable. Taping the fractured finger to an adjacent intact finger may treat a stable fracture. Unstable fractures require immobilization. After your doctor aligns the fracture, or reduces it, they can apply a splint.
If your fracture is unstable or displaced, your doctor may need to perform surgery. Surgery stabilizes the fracture when you have:
- multiple fractures
- loose bone fragments
- a joint injury
- damage to the ligaments or tendons
- unstable, displaced, or open fractures
- an impaction fracture
An orthopedic surgeon or hand surgeon will determine the best treatment approach for a complicated fracture. Pins, screws, and wires are useful in surgical procedures for broken fingers. Proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of broken fingers help to preserve hand function and strength and prevent deformities.
The recovery time for a broken finger maybe as short as a few weeks or up to a year, depending upon multiple factors. The prognosis also depends on various factors, such as if there is an associated nerve injury or vascular injury, or if there’s an injury to the joint surface causing arthritis.
A proper diet with adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium can help keep your 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 caution to prevent finger fractures.