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Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain: Types, Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Exercises

Sprained Finger(1) or Finger Sprain is comparatively common condition distinguished by the damage or tearing of the ligaments, joint capsule and cartilage of the joints of one or more fingers.

Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain-infographics

All the four fingers excluding thumb particularly consist of three little bones called as phalanges. The phalanges stick together at the interphalangeal joints and to the metacarpals at the metacarpophalangeal joints developing three joints for every single finger. These joints individually consist of strong connective tissues covering around the bone ends and cartilage that lie between the surfaces of the joints reducing the impact of the bones on each other while performing regular activities.

Compression or stretching forces get placed on the joints of the fingers when certain movements are performed. Excessive forces such as overuse or heavy force leads to the joint injury which may result in damaging the cartilage or tearing of the connective tissues covering the joints. This condition is called as a Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain, which may also affect either or more interphalangeal joints or metacarpophalangeal joints.

What Are The Types of Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain?

A Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain May Be Classified Into Three Types:

  • First degree as mild.
  • Second degree as moderate.
  • Third degree as severe.

First Degree Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

This is mild in nature. In this type, ligaments are overstretched, but they do not tear. Pain and localized swelling around the injured joint could be experienced by an athlete. The ability of an athlete to extend and flex the affected finger becomes limited because of the presence of swelling inside the joint. Generally the strength of the finger remains unaffected.

First degree sprains do not have a big impact on athletes regular sporting activities as taping the injured finger to an adjacent finger helps to tackle this condition.

Second Degree Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

This is a moderate type of sprain. This type of strain has a strong impact on ligaments as well as the joint capsule. Not only damage but also partial tearing of the ligament and joint capsule takes place due to stronger force of injury.

Pain and swelling are significant symptoms in this type of injury. The swelling may be felt all over the finger within the starting few hours and could probably limit the range of motion of both the joints in the finger. Tenderness of the joint will also be experienced specifically on touching over the injury site.

Third Degree Sprained Finger(2) or Finger Sprain

This is the most severe type of sprain. This kind of sprain often results in a total rupture of the ligament. A complete ligament rupture occurs not only at its attachment, but also in its middle area. The ligament rupture sometimes pulls away the bone from the distal attachment which could cause an avulsion fracture.

A third degree Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain could also lead to the subluxation. A subluxation is characterized as a partial dislocation in the finger that reduces itself. This occurs discreetly without the athlete realizing it.

A dislocation could occur in some cases, which is realized by an athlete due to the pain and apparent deformity of the finger. The initial reaction of the athlete is to reduce the dislocation immediately pulling on to the finger. This has to be followed by splinting and x-ray for proper treatment.

The result of a third degree sprain may be instability and laxity of the finger with severe pain, swelling, and probable discoloration.

Causes of Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

  • Sprained fingers frequently occur in ball sports like netball or basketball as a result of hyperextension force, which leads to bending of fingers backwards or due to force applied from sideways.
  • The force of impact at the end of the finger transfers to the joint up the finger causing the joint either to hyperextend or move sideways. This results in injury to the collateral ligaments in the fingers.
  • A Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain could also be caused because of repetitive strain due to overusing it.
  • Catching a finger in a jersey or any other piece of sports equipment is also a mechanism of sports injury leading to sprained finger. If the pulling force is stronger than the tolerance limits of the ligament, this could lead to stretched or torn ligament.
  • Contact sports could also be the reason for sprained finger as this involves collision of players with each other when tackling, boxing or martial arts due to awkward or forceful punch.
  • The very frequent cause of a sprained finger could be a blow to the end point of a finger when a ball traveling at high speed passes through it. Typical examples are mishandling a pass and catching it off the end of the finger in basketball or a bad bounce off of a groundball taken by a baseball player where the ball strikes the end of the finger.

Signs and Symptoms of Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

  • Sudden onset of pain in the finger at the time of injury.
  • Feeling of the symptoms on the back, front or sides of the affected joint of the finger.
  • Pain along with stiffness could be experienced after provocative activity, especially next day.
  • A pop sound or an audible snap at the time of injury could also be experienced.
  • Weakness in fingers and the hand.
  • Pain is felt when firmly touching the affected area.
  • Finger may also get totally dislocated in some severe cases.
  • Exacerbation of the symptoms when performing activities which involve use of fingers like typing, opening jars, cooking, household chores, etc.
  • Bruising or swelling around the affected joint.

Treatment for Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

The mainstay of treatment for Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain is adequate rest and to avoid activities that increases pain until symptoms resolve. Protective taping or bracing is done for stabilizing joint and prevent more damage.

RICE protocol is followed. Anti-inflammatories are used for pain, swelling, inflammation.

Physical Therapy (PT) for Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

It hastens the healing hence it is very important to do. It also prevents it from happening in future. They include the following:

  • Joint mobilizations.
  • Soft tissue massages.
  • Heat/ice.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Bracing.
  • Exercises for strength.
  • Activity modifications.
  • Returning to activities slowly.

Exercises for Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

Hand Open-Close: This is done, my making a fist. Now, try to bring the fingers in a straight position slowly until painless stretch is noted. This should be attempted at least 15 times without increase in pain.

Finger Adduction-Abduction: Join the fingers together and then spread them as much as it can be spread without pain being felt. Attempt this 10-15 times without pain exacerbation.

Tennis Ball Squeezes:(3) Hold a spongy object and squeeze it hard as long as no pain is experienced. Do it for 10 seconds and repeat it at least 10 times without increase in symptoms.

Investigations for Sprained Finger or Finger Sprain

A comprehensive examination is done looking for other impaired structures apart from the sprained fingers. Other tests include:

  • X-ray.
  • CT.
  • MRI.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 29, 2020

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