A jarred finger is an extremely common sports injury and for this reason it is often dismissed as being a minor injury which doesn't really require much attention. However, not all jarred fingers are created equal. Some may involve only partial tearing of a ligament while others may result in complete rupture of a ligament or the ligament being pulled off with a small fragment of bone attached (ligament avulsion fracture).
When someone says they have jarred their finger, what they are really saying is that their finger was pulled or pushed in a direction that it is not meant to move.
This pulls on the ligaments which stabilise our joints and can lead to ligament ruptures or fractures (broken bone) if enough force is applied. A fracture or
ligament rupture which is left untreated can lead to the finger being crooked, early arthritis in the joint and a loss of strength in the affected hand.
It is important to find out if your jarred finger has resulted in a fracture. If a fracture is ruled out, there could still be a serious ligamentous injury. If a ligament is fully ruptured or avulsed and does not receive adequate protection to allow it to heal, the joint will remain unstable which may lead to early arthritis due to excessive shear forces at the joint. The picture on the right shows a finger which bends back too far due to an untreated ligament/volar plate injury.
Other injuries which may be mistaken for a jarred finger are tendon injuries. If the fingertip is drooping down and is unable to straighten on its own, it is an indication that the tendon has ruptured or has pulled off its attachment to the bone. This is known as a mallet finger, and is best treated by a hand therapist. A complete inability to bend a finger joint may be an indication that the flexor tendon has ruptured. In this case, surgery is required.
How to know when to seek treatment for a jarred finger
If there is extensive swelling and bruising it is likely to be an indication that the finger is fractured (broken) because bones bleed when they are injured. It is wise to get an x-ray if there is a lot of bruising. Even if a fracture is ruled out, if pain and swelling persists for longer than 2-3 days this may indicate a significant ligament injury which requires treatment. A hand therapist can assess the stability of the injured joint to determine if the ligaments are intact and assess the integrity of the tendons to ensure you receive the correct treatment.
Persistent swelling in the finger will delay recovery of movement and may lead to permanent joint stiffness. A hand therapist will help to reduce the swelling by applying a compressive wrap to the finger, or fitting a custom-made fingerstall. Hand therapists will also fit a small custom-made splint to protect the injured ligament, tendon or bone. As soon as it is safe to do so, our therapists will provide you with exercises to assist you to restore full movement to the injured finger.
We may also fit you with a custom-made splint to allow safe return to sport. If your finger has become very stiff as a result of an injury, our hand therapists can also fit you with a specially made splint to help restore either the extension (straightening) or flexion (bending) to a stiff joint.
Below are some examples of splints made to restore movement to a stiff joint.