What to do if you think your child has a 'jammed' finger

January 27, 2014 

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Q: My son came in from playing basketball with friends with a jammed finger – or at least I think it’s jammed. How can I tell, and what do I do?

A: A “jammed” finger is an injury to a joint and the surrounding support tissues (tendons and ligaments) caused by a force being pushed onto that finger. This force is usually directly “loaded” onto the finger joint by something like a basketball pushing in on the end of an extended finger. This type of injury is very common in ball-handling sports like basketball, volleyball and even baseball.

It can be difficult to tell whether the finger is just jammed or whether there is a fracture of the bone. To treat the problem, immediately after the finger gets jammed you should inspect it to see if there is any obvious deformity. If the finger is bent to the side or can’t be moved at all, you can assume there is a more serious fracture or dislocation that needs treatment, and you should immediately seek care at your regular doctor’s office.

If the finger is straight and you can move it a little bit (even with pain), then you should apply ice to the joint that hurts, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and elevate the finger. Jammed fingers can be really painful, so feel free to use the pain medications regularly for the next 24 hours.

The next thing that will happen is the affected joint will likely have some swelling, but the ice can help reduce that. Remember to rest and protect the hand so a second injury doesn’t occur. If the finger is not feeling better or improving after two days, or if the finger pain is over the bone instead of the joint, you should consider going to see your regular doctor for an X-ray. Younger children who are still growing should be especially careful and get X-rays if there’s any suspicion that the finger might be broken.

Best of luck, and when the finger is better, be sure to get back out there and stay active!

Dr. Mike Steiner is a pediatrician in the division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at UNC and North Carolina Children’s Hospital, a group of health-care professionals dedicated to improving the health of children and adolescents through clinical care, research, education and advocacy. The group includes over 35 physicians, practitioners, nurses and other health-care professionals. We supervise the care of children with general medical problems at N.C. Children’s Hospital, including hospitalized children, the newborn nursery, primary care clinic and a complex care and diagnostic clinic that also sees patients at the N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic located on the Rex Healthcare campus in Raleigh.

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