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Therapy for Dislocated Finger: What's Involved?

By Apricus Health

20th December 2021

Although not life-threatening, dislocating your finger can be an extremely painful and distressing experience. If you dislocate your finger, it's essential to seek immediate therapy, as leaving this condition untreated can lead to chronic pain, stiffness, poor function, and even permanent deformity.  

What To Do with a Dislocated Finger 

Dislocated fingers are usually painful, swollen, red, bruised or visibly crooked. They may also be numb, tingling, or hard to move straight after the trauma occurs. If you suspect your finger, thumb or pinky is dislocated, your priority should be to seek treatment as soon as possible. While waiting or en route to a clinic, you can ice the finger to reduce swelling, however, it's important to not move your finger or attempt to relocate the bone back into place.  

If you're tempted to move the bone yourself, you risk doing permanent damage to the surrounding tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and cartilage. Physiotherapists, doctors, hand therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists are all medical professionals who are qualified to handle and treat dislocated fingers. 

Causes of Finger Dislocation

Fingers contain three joints, whereas thumbs contain two. Ligaments are short bands of fibrous material that hold the bones together and support the joints. A dislocation occurs when a significant force causes the ligaments to give way, resulting in the bone slipping out of its joint.

Although sports injuries are the leading cause of finger dislocation, dislocation can also occur as a result of overextending the finger, blunt force trauma to the tip of the finger, jamming of the finger, and falling on an outstretched arm.  

Types of Dislocations

Dislocations of any finger can be classified as dorsal, lateral, or volar depending on the direction of the injury. Hand therapy for dislocated fingers is dependent on knowledge of the sub-type of dislocation and further highlights that treating yourself is ill-advised.  

Dorsal Dislocation 
A dorsal dislocation occurs when a finger is bent too far backwards. This is the most common type of dislocation.

Lateral Dislocation
A lateral dislocation occurs when a finger is pulled or pushed too far sideways.  

Volar Dislocation
A volar dislocation occurs if the finger is pulled too far forward towards the palm. This type of dislocation is rare.  

Diagnosis and Treatment  

When you present with a suspected dislocation, your attending therapist will examine your finger and ask how the injury occurred. Before progressing hand therapy for a dislocated pinky finger, finger or thumb, imaging may be required to determine the exact nature of the damage.

Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the injury; treatment options include:

Step one of physical therapy for dislocated fingers is to manipulate the bone back into the joint; this process is known as an open reduction. Additional imaging may be required after the procedure to assess the bone's alignment and make sure blood flow has been restored to the tip of the finger. Complex reductions are generally done at a emergency department or GP clinic after local anaesthetic is administered.

After reduction, a custom made splint will usually be used to immobilise the finger while it heals. This will stop any movement of the injured finger and prevent further damage from occurring. In treating this, sometimes buddy straps are used to connect the injured finger to a neighbouring finger, adding additional support and increasing range of motion. Depending on the severity of the dislocation, a splint may be required for anywhere from one to six weeks.  

As a last resort, surgery may be needed in cases of joint dislocation where there is a fracture in the surrounding bone, if joint stability continues despite a successful open reduction or if realignment of the joint is unsuccessful despite multiple attempts.  

So, if you suspect you have a dislocated finger, you should seek assessment and treatment immediately. It would help if you did not attempt to realign the finger yourself, as you could easily cause further or even permanent damage.  

Therapy for dislocated fingers will take the form of damage reduction in order to realign the bone with the joint or to immobilise with a splint while the finger heals. Surgery will only be a last resort for extreme cases.

If you're still not sure how to proceed, feel free to book a discovery call to discuss your symptoms with one of our friendly clinicians, and we can point you in the right direction.

With over 25 years of experience in the medical field and five well-equipped, convenient locations across Townsville, Ingham and Ayr, the team of occupational therapists and hand therapists at Apricus Health are able to assist you with any queries or concerns.