A severed finger can mean that all or part of a finger is amputated or cut off from the hand. A finger may be completely or only partially severed.
Below we’ll look at first aid steps you can take in the moment if you or someone else severs a finger. We’ll also discuss what you might expect during treatment and recovery for this kind of hand injury.
If you have a severed finger you must get emergency medical treatment immediately. An injured or severed finger can lead to problems with your hand function.
The American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends these steps if you’ve cut part or your whole finger off.
Dealing with the scene of the injury
- If there are people around, get someone else’s attention for help. Any machinery in use should be controlled or turned off.
- Don’t remove any jewelry or any clothing from the injured area.
- Call an ambulance or ask someone to rush you to the emergency room.
- If you have a complete amputation, look for your severed finger part or ask someone to look for it.
Dealing with the injury
- Lightly rinse your injury with water or sterile saline.
- Cover the injury lightly with sterile gauze or a dressing.
- Elevate your injured hand above your heart to help reduce bleeding and swelling.
- Put slight pressure on the wound to help stop the bleeding.
- Don’t squeeze or tightly bandage the injured area or any part of the finger or hand — this can cut off blood flow.
Caring for the severed digit
If you have a severed finger or fingers:
- Don’t remove any jewelry or clothing from the finger.
- Gently wash off the amputated finger with water or sterile saline – don’t scrub it.
- Cover the finger in a damp, gauze wrap.
- Put the finger in a clean waterproof bag.
- Place the bag that the finger is in into another larger plastic bag.
- Place the bundle of plastic bags on ice.
- If more than one finger has been amputated, put each in its own clean bag. This helps to prevent infection and more damage to each individual digit.
Keep the severed finger cold without setting it directly on ice. You can use ice or a mixture of ice and water. If you don’t have ice, keep it cold by putting the wrapped finger on a bag of frozen food or surround the bag in cold water if you can without getting the finger wet.
Don’t place a severed finger directly on ice or anything frozen This can damage it. Keep it with you until you’re able to see the doctor. Bring your amputated finger with you to the emergency room. Don’t give it to anyone else to hold in case you get separated.
Dealing with shock
Any kind of accident or injury can cause shock. This may happen because your blood pressure drops too quickly. You may have:
- anxiety or agitation
- cool or clammy skin
- dizziness or fainting
- fast breathing or heart rate
- pale skin
The Mayo Clinic lists these first aid steps for shock after an injury:
- lay the person down
- elevate the legs and feet slightly
- keep the person still
- cover the person with a blanket or coat
- put slight but firm pressure over the bleeding area
- turn the person onto their side to prevent choking if they’re vomiting
The most important thing is to monitor a person experiencing shock, keep their body temperature warm, and get them to a hospital as soon as possible.
Surgery or an operation to reattach a severed finger is also called replantation.
Your doctor or surgeon will look at the amputated finger or fingers carefully with a microscope to find out if it can be reattached. Partially severed fingertips or fingers are more likely to be reattached. Full-length fingers severed at their base may be more difficult to reattach.
According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the steps for reattaching a severed finger include:
- Anesthesia. You’ll be given general anesthesia through an injection. This means that you’ll be asleep and won’t feel pain.
- Debridement. Your doctor may need to remove damaged or dead tissue from the wound and finger. This is called debriding; it helps to prevent infection.
- Bone care. Your doctor may need to trim the ends of the bones if there’s damage. This helps them fit together better.
- Reconstructive surgery. If your amputated finger can be saved, you may need microsurgery. Your doctor will sew together the nerves, blood vessels, and tendons inside your finger. This helps to keep your finger alive and heal well after it’s reattached.
- Reattachment. The bones are rejoined with screws and plates or wires.
- Closure. The wound is stitched closed and the area is bandaged.
An orthopedic surgeon and a plastic surgeon will often work together to repair a severed finger.
When the finger isn’t reattached
If there’s too much damage or it’s been too long since the accident, the severed finger may not be able to be rejoined.
If your finger can’t be reattached, you’ll still need surgery to repair your wound. Your surgeon may use a flap or graft made from your skin to cover the injured site and close the wound.
Recovery time and what to expect after finger surgery depends on the type of injury and the procedure needed to fix it. Your recovery time may be from a few weeks to a few years.
Pain medication can help keep you comfortable as you heal.
You’ll likely need to take antibiotics in the days after your surgery to prevent infection. Call your doctor immediately if you see any signs of infection, such as:
- pain or tenderness
- slow healing
- red streaks in the area
- bad smell
- skin or nail color change
Your doctor or nurse will give you instructions on how to change your dressing. You may need to see your doctor about a week after your surgery to remove stitches. Additionally, be sure to go to all follow-up appointments so your doctor can check the area.
The nerves inside the finger may take longer to heal. They may also not heal completely. Nerve damage can cause your injured finger to have:
- loss of feeling
A medical review found that if you have a clean straight cut injury, your nerves may start to rejoin in as little as three to seven days after your surgery. More complicated injuries, such as tears and crush injuries, or if you have an infection, can slow healing. In general, it may take three to six months for your nerves to heal.
Physical therapy exercises for your hand and fingers can help you heal. Rehabilitation is important for getting hand function and strength back to normal. Your doctor may recommend beginning physical or occupational therapy weeks after your surgery. Ask your doctor when it’s safe to begin exercising.
You may need to continue physical or occupational therapy until the 24th week after your surgery or even longer. A physical therapist can also recommend regular home exercises. You may also need to wear a hand or finger splint to help the area heal.
Physical therapy exercises to make the hand and fingers stronger and more flexible include:
- Range of motion. Use your uninjured hand to gently straighten and bend the finger.
- Finger extension. Place your palm flat on a table and slowly raise each finger one at a time.
- Function exercise. Use your thumb and the injured finger to pick up small objects like marbles or coins.
- Grip exercise. Squeeze your hand into a fist and release; hold a tennis ball or stress ball and squeeze.
A medical study from Turkey tracked the progress of people who had successful surgery for a severed finger or thumb. With physical therapy combined with massage techniques, about of people recovered with good to perfect hand function.
You may have other types of damage to your finger or hand even after you’ve healed from reattachment surgery. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, your recovery may take longer.
Problems that may go away after some time or be long-term include:
- blood clot
- cold sensitivity
- joint stiffness or arthritis
- muscle atrophy
- scar tissue
- swelling or change in shape
- fingertip drooping
It’s also possible you may experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression after your injury and surgery. See a therapist about the best way for you to cope. A disability or amputee support group can also help you move forward positively.
Remember that there are things you can do to help your recovery. Tips that help healing and improve your general health as you recover after having a finger or fingers severed include:
- taking all medications as prescribed
- avoiding smoking and chewing tobacco
- eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water
- wearing a splint as prescribed
- attending physiotherapy exercises
- following home exercise instructions
- seeing your doctor for all follow-up appointments
- talking to a doctor about the best way to manage your specific recovery