How to Buddy Tape a Finger

Finger injuries can be severe enough to require surgery or stitches. However, mild injuries to the fingers can be easily treated at home. If there is a cut or other type of open wound, determine if the injury needs stitches. If you believe it does, seek help from a doctor.

If there isn't an open wound, look to see if the finger is deformed. Again, if the finger is obviously deformed (twisted in an incorrect direction or grotesquely swollen, for example) then you should go to the emergency department.

A ​mallet finger may sometimes be overlooked because the deformity can be subtle. If only the tip of an injured finger will not straighten all the way, see a doctor.

Finger injuries with no obvious deformity can usually be safely treated at home. To avoid aggravating the injury, immobilize it by buddy taping.


Use Medical Cloth Tape

cloth tape
Medical cloth tape can easily be torn in whatever width needed.

To properly buddy tape a finger, it's best if you have medical cloth tape. Cloth tape is woven in such a way that it can be easily torn along either axis—across or lengthwise.

You can use scissors to cut the tape to just the right length if you need to. The width of the tape makes a difference in comfort and functionality.

You can create whatever width tape you need by starting a small tear at the end of the tape. Once you've done that, the tape will continue to come off the roll in whatever width you created.


Tape to Allow Fingers to Bend

taped fingers range of motion
Buddy taped fingers can still have range of motion.

Cut or tear each piece of tape just long enough to encircle the injured finger and the one next to it. Each finger (not the thumb) has three joints—the places where the fingers bend—including the knuckle.

Place one piece of tape between the first and second joints and another between the second and third (see the image above).

The pieces of tape need to be as wide as possible, but still be narrow enough not to cover the joints. And they should not be so tight that they make the fingers swell, turn colors, or lose feeling (get numb). The wider the tape, the more comfortable the fingers will be.

Buddy taping helps the injured finger stay in place and only flex or extend. The injured finger won't be able to twist or move laterally, but it can still be used to grip. The reduction in movement helps reduce inflammation.


Buddy Tape Ring Finger to Pinkie

Ring fingers and pinkie fingers should be buddy taped together

Taping the pinkie finger can be tricky because it is so much shorter than its only neighbor. However, it's best to tape ring fingers and pinkie fingers together regardless of which one is injured.

Putting the ring finger together with the pinkie allows the first two fingers and the thumb to be used more. If you tape an injured ring finger to the middle finger, the hand loses more functionality.

To properly buddy tape ring and pinkie together, you'll have to angle your tape. It's not easy and it might take a few tries to get it right. Don't be afraid to peel off a poor tape job on any finger and start over. Tape is cheap.

Possible Complications

Buddy taping is a common way to treat finger and toe injuries. It's been done for years, usually without incident. Some problems can happen when you tape one digit to another for a long time, however. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Pressure sores between fingers. Once a day, be sure to give your fingers a break (no pun intended). Untape and let them breathe for a few minutes. Some docs even suggest putting a piece of gauze between the digits.
  • Infections. Watch for swelling and heat, which are signs of infection. Buddy taping shouldn't be done on fingers with open wounds.
  • Irritation. Tape, even medical tape, can easily irritate sensitive skin. It's one of the things to look for when you remove the tape every day.

Like with all things, moderation matters. Don't leave fingers taped for an excessive amount of time or tape them too tightly.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should I keep injured fingers taped together?

A sprained finger takes four to six weeks to heal. When using buddy tape, you can remove the tape for short periods each day and replace wet and dirty tape, but re-tape the injured fingers and keep using the tape for at least four weeks.

Is it better to splint or tape a sprained finger?

For mild and moderate finger sprains, buddy tape should be sufficient to help your ligaments heal. Some moderate injuries, though, benefit from being splinted, which will make the finger completely immobile. You can use the splint for up to a week. Then, buddy tape the injured finger for another three weeks or until the injury is healed.

Can you keep playing sports if a finger is buddy taped?

It depends. The benefits of continuing to play should be carefully weighed. In highly competitive sports, athletes may return to a game once a minor injury is stabilized with tape (if it's allowed by the league). This can decrease the risk of hyperextending the finger again, but to heal quickly and properly, rest an injured finger for several weeks.

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Article Sources
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