Common in sports, finger sprains occur when the ligaments of the fingers or thumb are stretched and unusually bent – generally during a fall onto the hand. And a finger dislocation occurs when the ligaments and joint capsule surrounding the joint are actually torn and forced out of alignment.
The bones of the finger joints are connected by joint capsules, in which the ligaments are located. When the ligament is stretched beyond its capacity, it tears or sprains. In sports, this is often referred to as a jammed finger. The classification of ligament sprains includes: Grade I, which is a 25 percent tearing of the ligament; Grade II, which is a 25 to 75 percent tearing of the ligament; and a Grade III, which is a complete tearing of the ligament.
When the strong force placed on the ligament does not tear the ligament, but rather pulls a small piece of bone off the finger at the end of the ligament, it is called an avulsion fracture, or a third-degree sprain – representing a complete ligamentous disruption. A dislocation is the most severe form of a third-degree sprain, because the ligament must be torn completely to dislocate the joint.
All types of sprains will prompt joint swelling, stiffness, and loss of joint motion. Bruising may also be present.
Following patient history and physical examination, an X-ray will help diagnose the severity of the injury and determine the type of treatment required.
When a finger or thumb injury occurs, there should be an immediate refrain from activity involving the injured hand while cold compression and elevation help reduce swelling. It is important to reduce swelling, as it can cause stiffness and make recovery and resumption of normal range of motion more difficult.
For minor sprains, treatment includes a brief period of immobilization and splinting in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medication and cold compression – followed by a series of range of motion rehabilitative exercises. More serious sprains involving a dislocation or fracture may require surgery in order to properly repair and realign the joint.