How to Treat a Sprained or Dislocated Finger

Finger sprains and dislocations are common hand injuries. A sprain happens when the tough tissue that supports a joint is stretched too far. This tissue, called a ligament, can be partially or completely torn. If the damage is bad enough, the joint comes apart. This is called a dislocation.

Sprains and dislocations can cause pain and swelling. The injuries commonly happen during sports, at work, or in car accidents. While a dislocation is more serious than a sprain, the treatment is often the same for both injuries.

A splint on the finger of Dirk Nowitzki
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

This article discusses how finger sprains and dislocations happen. You will also learn about what to do if you sprain or dislocate your finger.

Finger Sprains

Sprains can happen any time your finger bends in an unusual way. This can happen if you fall on your hand or get hurt while you're playing a sport, for example.

Sprains can be in any of the "knuckle" joints in your finger. However, the joint in the middle of your finger is the most commonly sprained. It's called the proximal interphalangeal or PIP joint.

The symptoms of a finger sprain include:

  • Pain when you move your finger
  • Swelling around the knuckle
  • Tenderness in the finger and around the joint

If you sprain your finger, you might need to have an X-ray to see if any of the bones in your hand are broken (fractured). If you've broken a bone in your finger, you'll need different treatment than if you've just strained the tissue.

Some finger sprains are worse than others. To find out for sure how badly you've injured your hand, you'll need to seek medical care.

Treating Finger Sprains

You need to try not to move your finger while it is healing. That can be hard to do, but wearing a splint on your finger can help. Splints are supports that are usually made from foam and metal.

A sprained finger can also be taped to one of the fingers next to it while it heals. This is called buddy-taping.

Splinting a sprained finger while you're doing activities that could hurt it more can protect your hand. However, if you splint your finger when you don't actually need to, it can make the joint stiff.

An injury called "gamekeeper's thumb" is a more serious kind of sprain. Hurting the ligaments at this joint multiple times can make it harder to use your finger to make a "pinching" movement.

Often, this injury needs to be taped up or splinted for a long time. It might even need surgery to fix.

There are also a few other things you can do to help a sprained finger heal:

  • Ice the injured finger
  • Elevate your hand if it is swollen
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen
  • Gently move the finger to prevent it from getting stiff

If you have not broken any bones or dislocated the joint, you'll probably be able to move your finger again in about a week. Your doctor will let you know when you can start using your finger normally.

Thumb sprains and certain finger sprains in children might need to be splinted or taped for longer—especially if the ligament might be torn.

If you sprain your finger and it feels swollen and stiff for months, talk to your doctor. They might need to check your hand again to make sure you didn't break a bone.

Recap

When the ligaments that support your finger joints are pulled too far, it causes a sprain. A sprained finger can be swollen and hurt. You might need to wear a splint or tape your finger up to keep it from moving while it heals.

You can also use ice packs and keep the finger elevated to help the swelling go down. If it hurts a lot, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen.

Finger Dislocations

A finger dislocation is a more severe injury than a sprain. The ligament, the joint capsule, cartilage, and other tissues are all involved. When a joint is dislocated, the normal alignment of the finger is altered. That means the joint needs to be put back into the right place.

Treating a Dislocated Finger

Sometimes it's easy to relocate a finger. In fact, a person might be able to relocate their own finger just by simply pulling it back into position.

Other times, the dislocation is harder to fix. A person might need to be put under anesthesia or even have surgery to get the joint back into place. In these cases, there might be tendons or other tissues preventing the joint from getting into position.

Putting your finger back into the right position is called "reducing" it. Once it's been reduced, your finger needs to be splinted. You'll also need to have an X-ray to make sure the joint is lined up correctly and that you didn't break any bones when you got hurt.

After these steps are done, caring for a dislocated finger is basically the same as what you'd do for a sprained finger. For example, ice your finger and keep your hand elevated to help with swelling. You also need to check with your doctor to find out when you can start moving your finger again.

When a joint is dislocated the ligaments and the joint capsule get torn. Usually, a splint is enough to help the tissue heal. However, sometimes ligaments do not heal right. If this happens, you might need to have surgery.

Recap

A dislocated finger joint has popped out of place. You might be able to pop it back into the right position yourself. If not, a medical professional can do it. This is called "reducing" it.

Once the joint is back in place, you'll have to wear a splint on your finger to keep it from moving while it gets better. Many of the same things you'd do to treat a sprain, like icing your finger and taking ibuprofen for pain, can help a dislocated finger heal.

Summary

Finger sprains and dislocations are common hand injuries. A sprain happens when the finger is stretched in a way that stresses the ligaments and tendons. A dislocation happens when the joint in the finger moves out of place. Both injuries can cause pain and stiffness in the finger.

Sprains and dislocations are often easy to treat. However, to find out how badly you've hurt your finger, you'll need to see a doctor. They can also get your finger splinted or taped up to help keep it from moving while it heals.

A Word From Verywell

Most finger sprains and dislocations aren't serious injuries. While it will hurt and be uncomfortable, it should start to feel better after about a week.

A dislocated joint is a worse injury than a sprain, but the treatments for each are the same. Use ice on your finger and keep your hand elevated to help with swelling. Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine like ibuprofen. Make sure to keep your finger in the splint or taped and don't try to use it until your doctor gives you the OK.

If you have a more serious injury, you might need to have an X-ray. Bad tears or broken bones require different treatment than a simple sprain or joint that's popped out of place.

It's also important that you tell your doctor if the discomfort and pain in your finger are not going away. You might have a more serious injury that needs to be fixed with surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you tell if a finger is sprained or broken?

    An X-ray is the only way to know if your finger is broken or sprained. Symptoms of both a sprained and broken finger include pain, swelling, and tenderness to the touch.

  • Can you move a sprained finger?

    Maybe, but it will be painful. Sprains affect the ligaments around a joint, causing swelling and pain. You may be able to move a sprained finger, but not without pain.

  • Will a sprained finger heal on its own?

    It depends on the extent of the sprain. A mild sprain may heal on its own in a few weeks. A severe sprain typically requires medical attention and splinting. Even then, a bad sprain can take several weeks or even months to recover fully. Some sprains require physical therapy before the finger is fully functioning.

6 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.
  1. Elfar J, Mann T. Fracture-dislocations of the proximal interphalangeal joint. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2013;21(2):88-98. doi:10.5435/JAAOS-21-02-88

  2. OrthoInfo from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hand fractures.

  3. Hung CY, Varacallo M, Chang KV. Gamekeepers thumb (skiers, ulnar collateral ligament tear). StatPearls.

  4. OrthoInfo from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Finger fractures.

  5. Borchers JR, Best TM. Common finger fractures and dislocationsAm Fam Physician. 2012;85(8):805-810.

  6. Harvard Health Publishing. Finger dislocation.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.