Signs of a Broken Finger and When to See a Doctor

A broken finger refers to any injury in which the bones of a finger are broken or fractured. However, there are several categories of broken fingers depending on the severity of bone displacement and several other factors. If you think you have suffered a broken finger, or just want to learn more about what such an injury entails, the Hand and Wrist Institute is here to help.

What Are the Types of Breaks?

If the bone breaks through the skin, this is called an open fracture. Conversely, a closed fracture is when the bone is broken but doesn’t breach the skin.

The least severe type of break is a non-displaced fracture, which is defined as a bone that has been cracked but not displaced. A displaced fracture is one in which the bone is cracked and there has been displacement that has caused misalignment of the bone parts.

The type of break that’s typically the most complicated to repair is called a comminuted fracture. This is technically also a displaced fracture, but it involves the bone being broken in at least two places.

There are three more distinctions of fractures, which are avulsion, impacted, and shear. An avulsion fracture is one in which one part of the bone and its connecting tissue, either the ligament or tendon, pull away from a larger part of bone. A shear fracture is defined by the bones moving away from each other as a result of the acute injury. An impact fracture is one in which two pieces of bone drive into each other.

What Causes a Broken Finger?

Most broken fingers are the result of an accident. These accidents are often related to work, sports, or vehicle accidents. Certain pre-existing conditions may make you more vulnerable to bone breaks. Examples of these conditions are osteoporosis and vitamin deficiencies.

How Common Are Broken Fingers?

Finger breaks account for a relatively high percentage of broken bones. This is because of how often we use our fingers. They’re used in most daily activities, most jobs, and all sports. They’re used so often that we don’t necessarily think about the risk involved in them. Even just preparing a meal  creates a potential finger injury.

How Can Breaks Be Prevented?

There are certain measures that you can take to try to reduce your chance of experiencing a broken finger. If you work in an environment with a lot of heavy equipment and moving parts, you should ensure that you are aware of the equipment and your hand placement at all times. Additionally, ensure that you’re knowledgeable about all of the equipment that you use on a regular basis.

If you play sports, it may be helpful to purchase protective equipment and learn proper grip techniques. Around the home, you can reduce obstacles that may cause you to fall or cause things to fall on you. If you have low bone density, you may discuss supplements with your physician that can help reduce your risk of injury.

All of these measures can help reduce your chance of experiencing a broken finger. However, not all finger breaks can be prevented. Sometimes, accidents happen.

What Are the Symptoms?


Now that you know what a broken finger is, we can discuss how to determine if your injury is a break. In some cases, such as an open fracture, this answer will be very obvious. In this instance, you will see part of the bone protruding from the skin.

Other types of breaks may be less obvious. After the initial injury, the most common symptoms that people experience are pain and swelling at the site of the break. This pain may be throbbing, continuous, or a sharp pain specific to movement. You may also experience tenderness and restricted movement of the finger.

If you experience an injury to your finger, it’s best to have it examined by a physician. You may think that you have only jammed it, but it could be a fracture that needs to be addressed.

How Are Broken Fingers Diagnosed?

If you have injured your finger, you need to seek an evaluation by a physician. Most people access the care they need at urgent care facilities or emergency rooms. These facilities are well-equipped and well-educated in the detection of broken bones.

Your physician will first assess the injury site. This assessment will include visualizing the color and swelling. It will also involve the medical team testing the range of motion and pain levels. During this assessment, they will also ask you about how the injury occurred.

They will follow their initial assessment with imaging. This almost always means X-ray imaging, but they may also order CT or MRI scans. The results of the assessment and imaging will inform your physician’s decision about the best course of treatment.

How Are Broken Fingers Treated?

There are many courses of treatment available in the case of a broken finger. No two broken fingers are exactly the same so treatment will need to be individualized. Your physician will consider the type of break, its location, and the nature of the injury when deciding on the best course of treatment for you.

In mild cases, in which the bones aren’t too out of line with one another, your physician may decide that splinting is sufficient. Splinting means applying and keeping a splint on the finger for a few weeks. This treatment plan may also include other elements, such as limiting activity with the finger and applying ice to reduce swelling and pain.

If the fracture isn’t stable, your physician may determine that surgery is necessary to apply pins or plates in the finger to help the healing process.

The best thing you can do to ensure your finger will heal properly is to get in touch with a hand specialist as soon as possible. At the Hand and Wrist Institute, we have five facilities across Dallas and Frisco staffed by experienced medical professionals who’ll be only too happy to help you on the road to recovery.


Image by Tom Claes Licensed by Unsplash

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.