How to Buddy Tape a Finger

Some finger injuries can be severe enough to require stitches or surgery. However, mild injuries can often be treated at home with basic first aid techniques. This includes a procedure called buddy taping that helps stabilize an injured finger by taping it to the adjacent finger.

This article outlines when buddy taping is used (and not used), how it is performed, and possible complications you need to watch out for.

1

Examine the Injured Finger

Fingers buddy taped

Buddy taping can be used for minor finger injuries such as sprains or strains. Although doctors sometimes use buddy taping for minor fractures, they only do so after the finger has been X-rayed and they are confident that the fracture will heal normally.

If there isn't an open wound, look to see if the finger is deformed in any way. If the finger is bent at an abnormal angle, has a visible protrusion, or is severely swollen, go to the nearest emergency department.

Things like a ​mallet finger (in which the top of the finger bends abnormally toward the palm) or a dislocated finger should not be treated at home.

Finger injuries with no obvious deformity can be immobilized with buddy taping. This helps stabilize the finger and prevents further aggravation of the injury.

Recap

Buddy taping should only be used when there are no physical deformities in the injured finger. If there is any chance that the finger has been fractured or dislocated, seek immediate treatment.

2

Use Medical Cloth Tape

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

Buddy taping is best done with medical cloth tape. Medical cloth tape is woven in such a way that it can be easily torn along either crosswise or lengthwise. It is also waterproof and has less "give" than other, less-sturdy tapes.

Medical tape can be cut lengthwise to fit. Joints nearer to the tip of the finger may require a narrower piece of tape than those closer to the knuckle.

You can create whatever width 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've created.

Recap

Medical cloth tape is the best choice for buddy taping as it is waterproof, sturdy, and can be cut either crosswise or lengthwise.

3

Tape Between Joints

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

Cut or tear each piece of tape long enough to encircle the injured and adjacent finger.

Apply one piece of tape between the first and second joints, and place another between the second and third joints (as pictured above).

The pieces need to be as wide as possible to ensure comfort and stability but still be narrow enough not to cover the joints.

Wrap the tape firmly but not so tight that it causes the fingers to swell, turn colors, or become numb. If this happens, remove the tape and try again with a new piece of tape.

If done properly, the injured finger can still flex and extend so that you can grip things, but it won't be able to twist or move side-to-side.

Recap

Apply the medical tape between the first and second joints of the injured and adjacent finger. Apply another piece between the second and third joints. Do not cover the joints.

4

Buddy Taping Ring and Pinkie Fingers

Ring fingers and pinkie fingers should be buddy taped together

Taping the pinkie finger can be tricky because it is much shorter than the adjacent ring finger.

Even so, if either of these two fingers is injured, it is best to tape them together. Doing so ensures better functionality until the injury heals. If you tape the ring finger to the middle finger, it will be harder to grip things.

To properly buddy tape a ring and pinkie finger, you will have to angle the pieces of tape. It can take a few tries to get it right. Don't be afraid to peel off the tape and start again if things don't look or feel right. Tape is cheap.

Recap

Although it can be tricky, always buddy tape a pinkie finger and ring finger together if either is injured. Doing so allows you to grip things more easily than if the ring finger and middle finger are buddy taped.

Possible Complications

Buddy taping is a common way to treat finger and toe injuries, but there are a few drawbacks and concerns to be aware of. These include:

  • Irritation: Tape, even medical tape, can irritate sensitive skin. Applying a little moisturizer to the skin and letting it dry before taping may help reduce the irritation.
  • Pressure sores between fingers: To avoid this, un-tape the fingers at least once daily and allow them to breathe for several minutes. You can also place a piece of gauze between the fingers to reduce pressure.
  • Skin infection: If there is an open wound or sore on the finger. buddy taping may cause an infection due to the added moisture and warmth. If you have any signs of skin infection (including pain, swelling, redness, or a pus-like discharge), call your doctor.

Recap

Finger taping can cause irritation, pressure sores, and infection, especially if the tape is left on for too long. If there are signs of an infection, call a doctor.

Summary

Buddy taping is a first aid technique used for minor finger injuries to help stabilize the finger and allow it to heal. It should not be used if there is an open wound or there are signs of a fracture or dislocation.

Buddy taping is performed with medical cloth tape, One piece of tape is wrapped between the first and second joints of the injured and adjacent fingers; another piece is wrapped around the second and third joints. If the ring finger is injured, it should be buddy taped to the pinkie finger.

Possible complications include skin irritation, pressure sores, and skin infection. Removing and reapplying the tape at least once daily helps reduce the risk and allows you to check for any signs of infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should injured fingers be buddy taped?

    A sprained finger takes four to six weeks to heal. In cases like these, buddy taping should be used for around four weeks to ensure ample healing.

  • Is it better to splint or tape a sprained finger?

    For mild to moderate finger sprains, buddy tape should be sufficient. Moderate to severe sprains may need to be splinted to fully immobilize the finger. After wearing the splint for one week. buddy tape can then be used for the next three weeks.

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

    It depends. In highly competitive sports, athletes may return to a game once a minor injury is buddy taped to avoid hyperextension. But to heal properly, the injured finger should be rested for several weeks.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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