Overview and symptoms
If you’ve ever caught your finger in a door, or hit it with a hammer, you’ve probably experienced common symptoms of a smashed finger. Any trauma or injury to your finger can lead to:
- severe finger pain, especially aching and throbbing pain
- inflammation (pain, redness, and swelling)
- difficulty using the finger tip
- loss of sensation in the finger tip
- bruising and color change of the skin and fingernail
- stiffness in your finger
The fingernail on the smashed finger may also fall off within a week or two of the injury.
Read on to learn more about treating a smashed finger, and when you need to seek help.
The best way to get immediate relief from a smashed finger is to treat inflammation. Inflammation is the primary cause of pain, swelling, and redness.
Common tips for treating a smashed finger include:
- Rest. Once you’ve hurt yourself, stop whatever you’re doing to prevent further injury. As painful as it may be, try to calmly assess the damage and whether you’ll need medical attention.
- Ice. Very gently apply an ice pack or compress wrapped in a hand towel or cloth to the injured finger for 10-minute intervals with 20 minute breaks, several times daily. Never expose the skin directly to ice, or for longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, to avoid the risk of frostbite or further inflammation. To avoid putting weight on the injury, rest the finger on top of a covered ice compress or pack.
- Elevate. Elevating the injured finger slows the flood of blood to the site, limiting inflammation and pressure. This is extremely important and needs to be done continuously, not just intermittently. Elevate the finger above the level of your heart.
- Use over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. OTC anti-inflammatory and pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can help reduce inflammation and associated pain.
- Clean and cover open wounds. If the nail or skin is broken, gently clean the area using soap and water, or an antibacterial rinse. Then, cover the wound with sterile gauze or bandages. OTC antibiotic ointments or creams can also be applied to the wounds after cleaning sessions to help prevent infection. Wounds should be cleaned and new dressings applied at least twice daily.
- Make sure you can move your finger. Never wrap, split, or brace an injured finger at home. It’s also important to try to keep gently moving the finger as much as possible without increasing your pain. If your finger can’t move, seek medical attention.
- Use pain relieving creams and herbal remedies. Pain relieving medicated creams and herbal formulas can help reduce inflammation and pain. Arnica may help reduce inflammation and improve the healing time of bruises.
Long-term treatment and recovery
During the first 48 hours after the injury occurs, rest, ice, elevation, and the use of OTC pain medications are the recommended course of treatment. Your pain should start to greatly improve after a day or two of basic care. A painful bruise may develop at the injury site after the initial swelling goes down. Depending on the location of the injury and its severity, the bruise may cause throbbing, aching, or numbness.
Once the initial pain and swelling improve, you should increasingly try to stretch and move the injured finger. Avoid any movements or actions that cause your pain to increase significantly. Gently massaging the injury site and the surrounding area can help improve recovery time by encouraging blood flow to the site. This can also help break up dead blood cells and tissues.
The recovery time for a smashed finger depends largely on the severity of the injury and location. Most smashed fingers start to feel much better within three to four days. More complicated or severe cases may take a few weeks or more to fully heal.
Treating a bruised fingernail
When a bruise develops under the fingernail, pressure can build up and cause pain. If this pressure becomes severe, the fingernail may fall off. In most cases, though, your fingernail will remain in place, but you may notice discoloration around the site of the injury. The bruise will remain visible for a few months until the affected portion of the nail grows out.
If you suspect that your nail may fall off, or the bruise is visible on 50 percent or more of the nail, call your doctor. Your doctor may be able to help prevent the nail from falling off by relieving pressure.
What to avoid
While your finger is healing, it’s a good idea to stay away from any activities that increase pain or involve a lot of finger strain. It may take a few weeks before it’s safe to return to activities like physical or contact sports.
You should also not attempt to remove an injured nail yourself, or wrap, splint, or brace the injured finger.
When to seek help
Speak with a doctor or nurse if your smashed finger causes extreme pain or involves more than just the fingertip. You should also seek medical help if:
- you can’t straighten your finger
- the finger is noticeable bent or crooked
- your finger feels numb immediately after the injury and before the use of ice
- your fingernail bed, finger joints, knuckle, palm, or wrist are also injured
- symptoms get worse after 24 to 48 hours of basic at-home care
- deep wounds are present
- you think the nail will fall off or a bruise takes up more than half of the nail
- bleeding or pus occurs at the site of the wound
- you hear an odd noise like breaking or cracking at the time of the injury
- the injury site stays extremely swollen for more than 48 hours
A smashed finger is a very common, painful, injury that involves trauma to the finger. Though they can be very painful, most smashed fingers heal after a few days of at-home care. Rest, ice, elevation, and the use of OTC pain and anti-inflammatory medications are generally the best way to get immediate and long-term relief from this injury.
Seek medical attention for injuries that involve the joints, have noticeable deformities or breaks, cause severe pain, or don’t respond to basic treatment.