Finger or Thumb Amputation Reattachment

Finger amputations are serious injuries that can cause significant changes in how you use your hands. Therefore, surgeons may attempt to reattach the severed digit if you cut off your finger.

Not all fingers should be reattached, but you should have an immediate evaluation to determine the appropriate treatment for your injury.

This article explains what to do in the case of a severed finger and when you should and shouldn't consider reattachment.

Hands with and amputated finger
JodiJacobson / Getty Images

First Aid for a Severed Finger

When a finger is cut off, wrap the amputated portion of the digit in moist gauze. Keep the finger moist but not wet or submerged in water. Saline (saltwater solution) is ideal, but a damp, clean paper towel is the best most people will have around.

Next, place the wrapped finger in a clean zip-sealing plastic bag or sterile container. Then place the bag or container in ice.

The amputated finger should not directly contact the ice. Likewise, avoid using dry ice, as it's too cold and can permanently damage the tissue of the severed finger.

If you hope to reattach the finger, receiving immediate medical attention is crucial.

Move Quickly

Replantation is generally not possible for fingers that have been separated from the body for more than 12 hours. In cases where the injury is farther into the hand or arm, the time to reattachment is even shorter, as surgeons must reattach muscle tissue within 6 hours from the time of injury.

When a Finger Should Not Be Reattached

Much more common than situations when surgeons should reattach a finger are times where surgeons should not do so. In some cases, the damage is too significant, or the location of the injury may not respond favorably to reattachment.

Crushed, Mangled, Contaminated Fingers

A finger that is crushed, mangled, or contaminated (dirty) has usually sustained too much tissue damage. In those cases, it may not be a good choice to reattach the finger. This kind of damage is often seen with injuries from lawnmowers, snowblowers, chainsaws, and farming equipment.

Fingertip Injuries

Fingertip amputations seldom need to be reattached. That's because the capacity for these injuries to heal is quite good. Therefore, reattaching the tip of a finger may result in more problems than allowing the wound to heal independently.

Single Finger Injuries

Single finger amputations often cause more problems when replanted rather than amputated. This is because the goal of reattaching fingers is to restore hand function. However, a single finger that is cut off and reattached can often get in the way of grasping with the remaining digits. This is especially true if the one severed finger is the index or small finger.

Injuries Too Far up the Finger

Due to finger anatomy, amputations at the finger's base are much harder to recover from than amputations at the finger's mid-level. Furthermore, nerve function seldom recovers to provide a good sensation in injuries at the finger's base.

Recap

Sometimes, reattaching a finger is a bad idea. For example, if your injury includes crushed or mangled fingers, is a fingertip, is amputated too far up the finger, or involves a single finger, it may not respond well to reattachment.

When a Finger Should Be Reattached

There are situations when surgeons make special efforts to reattach a severed finger. These include injuries in children and with thumb and multi-digit amputations.

Children

Children are more likely to heal an amputated digit and more likely to have good function of a replanted finger. Therefore, surgeons make every effort to reattach severed fingers, especially in young children.

Thumbs and Multiple Fingers

The primary goal of reattaching amputated fingers is to restore the ability to grasp; this is best accomplished when the hand has a thumb and at least two other fingers. If the thumb or multiple fingers are cut off, extra attempts may be made to reattach the severed digits.

Recap

Children recover well from amputations and reattachments, so often, surgeons take steps to reattach their severed fingers. In addition, it is usually best to reattach thumbs and multiple fingers.

Results of Reattaching a Severed Finger

Modern surgical techniques have allowed doctors to reattach fingers with high success rates. About 70% of reattached fingers are successful, meaning the finger is viable (usable).

However, even if the finger is usable, it may not function like it used to. The downsides of finger reattachment include that the person may:

  • Have only about 50% of normal motion
  • Experience significant loss of sensation
  • Have difficulty with cold tolerance

Often these downsides are better than not having the finger, but not always. Therefore, it's essential to reattach fingers in appropriate situations and not reattach the finger when a poor outcome is likely.

Summary

If you sever a finger, reattachment may be possible, especially if you take appropriate steps to preserve the amputated finger and receive medical care promptly. However, reattachment isn't always a good idea.

In some cases, like when fingers are mangled or crushed, too little or too much of a finger was severed, or only one digit was injured, the injury may not respond well to reattachment. But, in cases where a thumb or multiple fingers are affected, or the injured person is a child, a healthcare provider will likely attempt a reattachment.

A Word From Verywell

If you sever a finger, the first thing to do is remain calm. Next, have someone collect the severed part of your finger, wrap it, and pack it in ice. In the meantime, seek immediate medical care. Taking these steps sets you up for the best possible outcome and chance of recovery.

5 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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Additional Reading

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.