How to Treat a Sprained or Dislocated Finger

Sprained and dislocated fingers are common hand injuries. A sprain occurs when the tough tissue that supports a joint is stretched too far. This tissue, called a ligament, can be torn partially or completely. If the damage is severe enough, the joints can come apart. This is called a dislocation.

Sprains and dislocations can cause pain and swelling. These injuries usually occur in sports, work or car accidents. Although a dislocation is more serious than a sprain, the treatment for both injuries is usually the same.

This article discusses how finger sprains and dislocations occur. You will also learn what to do if your finger is sprained or dislocated.

finger joint anatomy

finger sprain

Sprains can occur any time your finger is bent in an unusual way. This can happen, for example, if you fall or get injured while exercising.

Sprains can occur in any of the “joint” joints in the fingers. However, the joints in the middle of the fingers are the most prone to sprains.It is called proximal interdigital or PIP connector.

Symptoms of a sprained finger include:

  • pain when moving fingers
  • swelling around the joint
  • tenderness around the fingers and joints

If you have a sprained finger, you may need an X-ray to see if any of the bones in your hand are broken (fractured). If your finger is broken, you will need different treatment than if you just pulled the tissue.

Some finger sprains are more serious than others. To determine the severity of your hand injury, you will need to seek medical attention.

Treating a Sprained Finger

You need to try not to move your finger while it heals. This can be difficult to do, but wearing a splint over your fingers can help. A splint is a support usually made of foam and metal.

A sprained finger can also be attached to one of the fingers next to it as it heals. This is called a buddy recording.

Pinch your sprained finger to protect your hand when you do activities that might hurt your fingers more. However, if you pinch your fingers when you don’t actually need the splint, it can stiffen the joint.

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An injury called a “keeper’s thumb” is a more serious type of sprain. Injuring the ligaments at this joint multiple times can make it harder for your fingers to perform “pinch” movements.

Often, this injury requires prolonged tape or splinting. It may even require surgery to fix.

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There are other things you can do to help your sprained finger heal:

  • ice the injured finger
  • Raise your hand if swollen
  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen
  • Move your finger lightly to keep it from getting stiff

If you don’t have a broken bone or a dislocated joint, you may be able to move your finger again in about a week. Your doctor will let you know when you can start using your fingers normally.

Thumb sprains and some finger sprains in children may require splints or tape for longer – especially if the ligaments may be torn.

Talk to your doctor if you sprain your finger and feel swollen and stiff after a few months. They may need to check your hand again to make sure you don’t have a broken bone.


A sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the finger joints are stretched too far. A sprained finger may become swollen and injured. You may need to wear a splint or tape your finger to keep it from moving as it heals.

You can also use an ice pack and keep your fingers elevated to help reduce swelling. If it’s painful, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen.

dislocated finger

A dislocated finger is a more serious injury than a sprain. Ligaments, joint capsules, cartilage, and other tissues are all involved. When a joint is dislocated, the normal alignment of the fingers changes. This means that the joint needs to be put back into the correct position.

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Treating a dislocated finger

Sometimes it’s easy to reposition the fingers. In fact, a person may be able to reposition by simply pulling their fingers back into place.

Other times, the misalignment is more difficult to fix. A person may need anesthesia or even surgery to bring the joint back into place. In these cases, there may be tendons or other tissue preventing the joint from sitting in place.

Putting the finger back in the correct position is called “reducing” it. Once reduced, your fingers will need a splint. You’ll also need X-rays to make sure the joints are aligned correctly and that there were no fractures at the time of the injury.

After completing these steps, care for a dislocated finger is basically the same as for a sprained finger. For example, ice your fingers and elevate your hands to help reduce swelling. You’ll also want to talk to your doctor about when you can start moving your fingers again.

When a joint is dislocated, the ligaments and joint capsule tear. Often, a splint is enough to help the tissue heal. However, sometimes the ligaments do not heal properly. If this happens, you may need surgery.


A dislocated finger joint suddenly dislocated. You might be able to bounce it back into the correct position yourself. If not, medical professionals can do it. This is called “reducing” it.

Once the joint is back in place, you must put a splint on your finger to keep it from moving as it gets better. Many treatments for sprains, such as freezing your fingers and taking ibuprofen for pain relief, can help a dislocated finger heal.

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Sprained and dislocated fingers are common hand injuries. A sprain occurs when a finger stretches a ligament and tendon in a certain way. A dislocation occurs when the joints in the fingers move out of place. Both injuries can cause pain and stiffness in your fingers.

Sprains and dislocations are usually easy to treat. However, to find out how badly your finger hurts, you need to see a doctor. They can also pinch or tape your finger to help keep it from moving as it heals.

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Most finger sprains and dislocations are not serious injuries. Although it will be painful and uncomfortable, it should start to feel better after about a week.

A dislocated joint is more serious than a sprain, but the treatment for each condition is the same. Use ice cubes on your fingers and keep your hands elevated to help with swelling. Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever such as ibuprofen. Make sure to keep your finger on the splint or tape and don’t try to use it until your doctor agrees.

If you have a more serious injury, you may need an X-ray. Severe tears or fractures require different treatments than simple sprains or joint dislocations.

It is also important to tell your doctor if the discomfort and pain in your fingers does not go away. You may have a more serious injury that needs to be repaired with surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I tell if my finger is sprained or broken?

    X-rays are the only way to know if your finger is broken or sprained. Symptoms of sprained and broken fingers include pain, swelling, and tenderness.

  • Can you move a sprained finger?

    Maybe, but it would be painful. Sprains can affect the ligaments around the joints, causing swelling and pain. You may be able to move your sprained finger, but it’s not without pain.

  • Will a sprained finger heal on its own?

    It depends on the extent of the sprain. Minor sprains may heal on their own within a few weeks. Severe sprains usually require medical attention and splinting. Even so, a severe sprain can take weeks or even months to fully recover. Some sprains require physical therapy before the fingers are fully functional.

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