Finger Injuries in Sport: Sprains, Fractures and Dislocations

Rugby players in a maul with hands on the ground

With sport now well and truly back on the agenda after almost two years away, and with  football season just around the corner, discussing finger injuries in sport feels timely.

Sprained fingers: the most common footy injury?

The most common injury I see in my athletes is a sore middle joint in their finger after it has been forced backwards or to the side by a ball or a collision. Sometimes there is a dislocation of the joint, but not usually. Usually there is swelling and pain that won’t go away. This is not an injury that would be ignored at the elite level, but at recreational and community levels, this type of pain is commonly ignored and the consequences can be permanent.

Sprained vs. dislocated vs. fractured fingers

The middle joint of your finger is called the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP). Think of it like a box with four sides. The sides are called ligaments. If two of those ligaments are disrupted, the joint will dislocate. Most commonly, the ligaments are sprained or stretched too far. Occasionally they can pull off a piece of bone — this is called an avulsion fracture.

Managing a dislocated finger

If your joint has dislocated, then splinting is essential to ensure the joint is stable. If it hasn’t dislocated, then a splint may be necessary for protection and to help the ligaments and bone heal. It’s also important to reduce the swelling and to start safe movement. An x-ray will determine if there is a fracture and I would always recommend this in children or if there is significant bruising or swelling.

Recovering from sprained or dislocated fingers

Your return to sport after a finger injury should be gradual and protected each step of the way. Buddy taping may work, but this is rarely sufficient and often is not appropriate — despite this, you do still see plenty of buddy-taped fingers on the playing field, even when another treatment may have been more effective. The most important thing is to seek proper help and avoid doing nothing — this can make the injury worse and lead to a permanent loss of motion. 

It is my job to get you back playing safely as soon as possible and to restore full function to your hand. Please don’t underestimate a sprained or dislocated finger — book an appointment to see me for help as soon as you can. 

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