Why it’s not just a “jarred finger”

The seasons for popular ball sports like netball, AFL and the rugby codes are underway, and with these kinds of sports comes a very common injury to fingers. Nearly everyone can relate to the experience of an object striking the end of their finger, resulting in pain, swelling and even bruising that can last weeks or months. These injuries don’t just come from ball sports, however they are an injury we see frequently as hand therapists, especially from when preseason training starts until after the grand finals. 

There are 3 joints in each finger, and by far the most commonly injured is the middle knuckle of the finger. We call this the proximal interphalangeal joint, better referred to as the PIP joint. Injuries to this joint can have serious long term implications in terms of pain, stiffness, and weakness. You may be unable to straighten the finger or make a fist and grip objects properly. Injury to the PIP joint often affects ligaments, which hold the bones together; it can also damage tendons which enable movement, and can also result in a fracture of the bone. 

If you have one of these injuries, it is important to get it properly assessed and treated so that you resolve the symptoms and get back to normal, pain free use of the hand as quickly as you can. If you see a hand therapist, they will be able to determine what structures are affected and what is the best approach to treatment. You can expect treatment to involve compression for the swelling, a custom made splint to support the finger, and a gentle exercise program to allow return to full movement. Your therapist can give you realistic timeframes for recovery based on the structures affected and the severity of the injury.

Pain doesn’t always indicate how bad the injury is, and sometimes what is dismissed as ‘just a jarred finger’ can actually be a significant injury that needs therapy or even surgery to get a good outcome.  Permanent changes can result, like reduced movement, weakness and early onset arthritis. If injuries are treated within the first few weeks after the injury, you can expect a much faster and better recovery than if you wait weeks or months. Sometimes treatment options are time limited, and we can miss the opportunity to get the best result if you wait too long.

So if your finger is injured, don’t just wait and see – instead contact a hand therapist and get your finger back to work, sport and daily life ASAP.

Image Courtesy of: Brigette Evans - Marketing Officer AHTA 2019

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