Sprained & Dislocated Fingers

Diagnosis and Treatment of Finger Sprains and Dislocations

A detail of a splint on the finger of Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks against the Miami Heat in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 2, 2011 in Miami, Florida.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Finger sprains and dislocations are common injuries. Both sprains and dislocations cause damage to the ligaments that support the finger joints -- in more severe injuries, a dislocation may occur, necessitating the finger to be "put back into place" or "reduced."

Finger Sprains

Finger sprains are injuries that cause a stretching and tearing of the ligaments of the fingers or thumb. The most common causes of finger sprains are sports injuries and falls onto your hand.

Often, the finger bends unusually, causing the ligament injury and subsequent pain.

Symptoms of a finger sprain include:

  • pain with finger movement
  • swelling
  • tenderness of the finger

An x-ray should be performed to ensure that there is no bone fracture.

Treatment of Sprains

Finger sprains are often splinted or buddy-taped (taped to an adjacent finger) for a short period of time. So long as there was no fracture or dislocation, most finger sprains should be allowed to move within about a week. Splinting the sprained finger during sports can help protect the injury, but unnecessarily splinting the finger cause it to stiffen up. You should discuss with your doctor when to begin finger movements.

Other treatments for a sprained finger include:

Thumb sprains and certain finger sprains in children may require a longer period of immobilization or evaluation by a specialist, especially if there is concern that a ligament was torn.

One injury in particular, the so-called "Gamekeeper's thumb," requires immobilization and occasionally surgery. This particular injury is important because chronically injured ligaments at this joint affect our ability to pinch.

It is not unusual for finger sprains to cause swelling and stiffness that can persist for months following the injury.

It's important if you have these persistent symptoms that you let your doctor know so that they can ensure there is not a more severe injury (such as a finger fracture), but as long as things are OK, it may take months for the stiffness and swelling to fully resolve.

Finger Dislocations

A finger dislocation is a more severe injury to the ligament. When a joint is dislocated, the normal alignment of the finger is altered, and the joint must be put back into place.  This means that the bones are no longer in proper position.

When the joint is dislocated, the ligaments and joint capsule surrounding the injured joint are torn. Sometimes, these ligaments do not heal adequately and surgery is occasionally needed to repair the injured structures. That said, most finger dislocations can be treated with a simple splint. Once the joint has been put back into position, the finger is splinted to allow the ligaments and joint capsule to heal.

Treatment of a dislocated finger is similar to that of a sprained finger. You should ice and elevate the injured finger after the injury. After the dislocation has been reduced (put back into position), the joint should be splinted and an x-ray obtained. The x-ray is performed to ensure the joint is perfectly aligned, and that there was no fracture that occurred at the time of the injury.

Then follow your doctor's recommendations for when to begin finger motion.


Leggit JC, Meko CJ "Acute finger injuries: part I. Tendons and Ligaments" Am Fam Physician. 2006 Mar 1;73(5):823.

Leggit JC, Meko CJ "Acute finger injuries: part II. Fractures, dislocations, and thumb injuries" Am Fam Physician. 2006 Mar 1;73(5):839.

"Thumb Sprains." American Society for Surgery of the Hand. © 2006.

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