What Is a Jersey Finger Injury?

A Sometimes Serious Tendon Injury Seen in Athletes

Trainers examine player's injured finger. Deniz Calagan / GettyImages

A jersey finger is an injury to one of the finger tendons. Typically, an athlete will sustain a jersey finger injury while participating in games such as football or rugby which involve tackling. Often times, when a player grabs an opponent's jersey, the tendon can get ripped when the opponent yanks away the jersey from the player's grip.

While a jersey finger can occur in non-athletic activities, it is most commonly seen in full contact sports.

Symptoms of a Jersey Finger

A jersey finger is an injury to the flexor tendon. This is the tendon that pulls the fingers toward the palm as the flexor muscles of the forearm are contracted. The injury starts at the tip of the finger and causes the tendon to snap back (almost like a rubber band) to the base of the finger or even the palm of the hand.

Under normal circumstances, the posture of the hand will be slightly flexed as if holding a glass. This is because the tendons flexing (bending) and extending (straightening) your finger are in balanced.

When a flexor tendon is injured, the finger will straighten unnaturally while all of the other fingers will remain slightly flexed. At the same time, the person will be unable to bend the injured finger toward the palm. These, along with pain and tenderness, are the hallmark features of a jersey finger.

In some cases, the flexor tendon may only be partially torn.

When this happens, it may still be possible to bend the finger but only slightly. These types of injuries are often the most difficult to diagnose and, if left untreated, may lead to a complete rupture.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is recommended to repair the complete tear of a flexor tendon. The procedure has multiple steps which can vary by how far the tendon has retracted.

The process of the surgery involves:

  1. Locating the tendon at the base of the finger or in the palm
  2. Threading the tendon through the finger into the proper position
  3. Securely reattaching the tendon to the tip of the finger

The final task is considered critical to restoring the full range of motion. Typically, the tendon is reattached by drilling small holes into the bone. Once the tendon is secured, the sutures are pulled, first through the bone and then through the fingernail, and tied together on the back of the finger.

Surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis. After the surgery is completed, the doctor will apply a dressing and splint to protect the finger. The fingers and wrist will be placed in a bent position to keep tension off the repair.

Partially torn tendons may not require surgery. Splinting, physical therapy, and a structured exercise program may be enough to allow the injury to heal and fully repair.

Post-Surgical Rehabilitation

After surgery, you would need to work with a hand therapist to regain motion of the finger. Since flexor tendons have a tendency to become stiff and scarred, physical therapy should never be considered anything but essential. Even with appropriate therapy, stiffness remains a common complication following a jersey finger surgery.

It may take up to two months before the repair is healed and an additional month or two before you can confidently return to sports.

Source:

Schöffl, V.; Heid, A.; and Küpper. T. "Tendon injuries of the hand." World Journal of Orthopedics. 2012; 3(6):62-69.

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