The thing about living an active, sports-filled lifestyle is that injury is an inevitable comeuppance everyone has to deal with eventually. My brother tore his ACL and broke his arm over his baseball career. I myself suffered a cracked skull and something very, very wrong with my back that left me tottering for the entire season. Injuries are painful, but they’re an unavoidable part of the human experience.

‘Experience’ really is the operative word to lean on. Everything painful has a lesson, whether that lesson be how to avoid it in the future, how to overcome it, or how to come back from it. Understanding how to help repair your body is just as vital as preventing any hurt in the first place. Learning how to mend something as complex as a broken bone is just as important as dealing with a sprained finger.

If anything, knowing how to deal with a sprained finger will probably do you better in the long run.

What Is a Sprained Finger?

As tough and resilient as the human body is, there are immeasurable ways it can get injured. Fractures, strains, sprains, twists, hematomas – there’s a whole laundry list of ways we can hurt ourselves. Knowing how to deal with an injury is good, but knowing why they’re different from each other is better.

You may have heard the term ‘ligament’ before, they’re a crucial part of what makes your body so effective at what it does. They’re strips of soft tissues that connect bone, cartilage, and joints. There are 27 bones in the human hand. Ligaments are what are responsible for holding all of those together.

Injured puppet

A sprain is what happens when you damage a ligament. Most of the time it happens when you overexert it, through hyperextension or jamming. You might catch a ball wrong and it bends your finger back too far. You may run into a wall, another player, or the ground after a bad fall. Sprains are among the most common injuries in sports, at least when it comes to injuries that require genuine attention beyond simple bumps and bruises.

How Do You Identify a Sprained Finger?

There’s a good reason why doctors and nurses have to wade through years of school before they’re qualified to treat people. Medicine is a complicated field, even when it comes to first aid. Being able to identify and distinguish injuries should be the first thing done when assessing the situation. A sprained finger shouldn’t be mistaken for a fracture, or vice versa.

First off, as with most injuries, there will be swelling in the affected area. That, combined with the initial striking pain, signals the need for immediate attention. The sprained finger will also become increasingly stiffer as the swelling continues.

Motion is an important factor of understanding the damage. Depending on how stable the finger is, as well as how much pain is continually experienced, can indicate the extent of your injury. Extreme cases may lead to surgery but, generally, that’s not going to happen very often.

Sprains can be painful, but make sure to use your best judgment: if they’re screaming in pain and the finger looks broken or mangled, it’s time for a doctor.

For the most part, if the finger feels like it’s jammed and won’t move easily, it’s just a sprain. Swelling, tenderness, and stiffness are what you’ll need to look for.

xray hand

How Do You Treat a Sprained Finger?

There are plenty of things to do for a sprain, but for the most part the classic will be the best route. The RICE method is the Occam’s Razor of first aid: the simplest answer is usually the best.

  • Rest: It may just be a sprained finger, but that’s all the more reason to make sure to give it time to heal. There are no other parts of the body that are as crucial and irreplaceable as the human hand, especially for sports.
  • Ice: It’s old-fashioned, but efficient. Nothing beats cold to reduce swelling and accelerate the healing process.
  • Compression: Wrapping the finger in a bandage, or buddy-taping it to one of its neighboring fingers, helps the healing process as well. Reducing swelling and providing support are key to ensuring the sprained finger heals properly.
  • Elevation: It may be a little harder to do when it comes to your fingers, but try to keep it elevated above heart-level as much as possible. It helps minimize swelling.

Chances are you should be in the market for some pain relievers as well. Advil, Tylenol, something to help with the pain usually helps. Most over-the-counter medicines should do the job, but your doctor should have the final say in what goes in your body.

You may also want to consider using a splint to ensure proper healing. While compression tape may do the job just fine, splints offer more stability, protection, and compression than tape can.

Once your sprained finger heals enough, you should start giving it regular massages to encourage healing, improved scar tissue, and pain relief. Just make sure you don’t start within the first 48 to 72 hours of the injury, or you’ll do more harm than good.

If you don’t do anything to help speed it along when it comes to physiological therapy, you’ll probably be fine since it’s just a sprained finger. However, doing nothing is still worse than assisting your body with the repairs. Your finger will come back better and closer to peak performance with a little effort than with none.

Other therapy you can do to help your sprained finger along are regular exercises, mostly trying to move it as much as possible without hurting yourself. You’ll be testing the range of what you’re able to do on the daily. Just remember that overexertion does you no good. Keep your exercises steady and consistent, and your sprained finger will be back to its regular health in no time.

Should I Consult My Doctor?

Hopefully, no. Sprains, for the most part, are a regular, moderate injury that are easily dealt with. They’re easily and cheaply dealt with and don’t require doctor intervention. Those are, of course, for minor sprains. Major sprains are a different matter.

Since sprains are on the lighter end of the injury scale, they tend to begin noticeable healing within a few days. The initial pain and shock of the injury doesn’t last for long, and daily life and generally continue unimpeded. However, in more severe cases, the injury doesn’t improve, and the pain is excruciating to the degree where daily chores are difficult.

If the injury falls under these categories, or the finger seems misshapen or darkly discolored, then a doctor may be in order. We aren’t perfect, and we may mistake a simple sprain for something more serious. It could just be that the sprain has resulted in more damage than we thought it did. Regardless, a professional needs to treat it to avoid further damage to your finger.

For the most part, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a broken and jammed finger by visual examination alone. If you aren’t certain, a doctor will be able to discern it. If they aren’t certain, then X-rays are in order. What it all comes down to is: consulting a professional is better than guessing if you’re uncertain.

Treatment Finger

Being Safe Is Better Than Being Sorry

That’s really what it comes down to: being safe. A sprained finger is, more often than not, a simple healing process. However, it’s better to do everything you can to ensure that process goes well than risk permanent damage to your hands.

If your sprained finger looks too discolored, or misshapen, you need to consult a doctor. Without proper examination and treatment, you’re only risking extreme damage. Even a minor sprain could result in lasting damage to how well you’re able to use that finger.

Your doctor is there to help you. And if you are able to discern whether or not you need a doctor, take every step to ensure your sprained finger heals properly. The RICE method is a tried and true process used universally for efficient healing.

Whatever your injury, do what’s best for you.

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