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Broken fingers are extremely common. In fact, they tend to be the most frequently injured part of the hand due to the delicate nature of the bones. It’s important for patients to be able to recognize and distinguish between a broken finger and a finger sprain or strain, which is an injury to the ligaments that connect two bones rather than the bone itself.

Finger fractures and strains can be difficult to distinguish from one another, as they often present in a similar way. However, identifying which injury one has is important for getting proper treatment.

As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in upper extremity care, Dr. Mark Yaffe of Barrington Orthopedic Specialists can offer not only an accurate diagnosis but also the best treatment plan for your specific injury. Dr. Yaffe is experienced in helping patients recover their fingers' mobility and get back to life as normal.

Here are some important things to know about finger fractures, including how to tell if your finger is broken or sprained:

How Do Finger Fractures Happen?

The hand contains 27 bones in total: eight bones that form each wrist, five metacarpal bones in the hand, and 14 bones in each finger (including the thumb). A finger fracture can occur in any of these bones and can be the result of:

  • Direct trauma, such as a blow to the fractured finger from a heavy object or an impact with another person’s hand during sports 
  • Twisting or bending of the finger in a way that is not natural, which can lead to twisting and tearing of the bones in the injured finger
  • Falls or other accidents that cause extreme force can result in a broken finger 

Any serious amount of force to the finger can cause a fracture. It is important to seek medical attention right away after experiencing any kind of trauma involving hands or fingers.

Types of Finger Fractures

There are two types of fractures that can affect the bones of the fingers, both of which Dr. Yaffe can treat:

  • Closed (simple) fractures: This type of fracture does not break the skin, and is usually caused by direct trauma or twisting of the finger.
  • Open (compound) fractures: In this type of fracture, the bone breaks through the skin. These types of fractures are very serious and require emergency medical attention as they can increase the risk of infection. 

This type of finger injury can also be characterized as 'stable' or 'unstable,' meaning whether or not the broken bone has moved out of its normal position in relation to the other bones:

  • Stable fracture: This type of fracture is when the broken bone pieces are still in line and may be accompanied by a sprain or strain. 
  • Unstable fractures: This type of fracture is when the broken pieces of bone have become misaligned and will need to be reset. 

Risk Factors for a Broken Finger

There are several risk factors that may increase one’s chances of experiencing broken finger bones:

  • Participating in contact sports: Sports such as football, rugby, or hockey involve hard contact and can increase the risk of finger injuries.
  • Age: Elderly individuals are more at risk of fracturing their fingers due to weakened bones from age-related osteoporosis and poor balance which make them more prone to slipping or falling. 
  • Weak bones: Conditions such as osteoporosis can weaken bones, making a broken bone more likely when exposed to even minor trauma.
  • Occupation: Occupations such as carpentry or factory work can also increase the risk of workplace injuries to the fingers due to regular handling of heavy and/or sharp objects. 

Finger Fractures vs Finger Sprains & Strains

Finger fractures and strains can be difficult to distinguish from each other, as they often present in a similar way. However, it is important to accurately diagnose the injury so that the patient gets the proper treatment.

Here are some of the main differences between finger fractures and strains:

  • Pain: Finger fractures typically cause extreme pain which may worsen with movement. Finger strains may also cause pain, but it is usually more of a dull ache that does not worsen when the finger is moved. 
  • Swelling: Fractured fingers often swell immediately and severely. With a strain, there may be some swelling, but it will usually be less severe than in the case of a fracture. 
  • Mobility: A broken finger typically cannot be moved, while sprained fingers usually still can. 
  • Bruising: Bruising may occur with both fractures and strains but is often more visible in the case of a fracture. 

What Does a Broken Finger Feel Like?

If you're unsure whether your finger is broken or sprained, keep in mind these common symptoms of a broken finger:

  • Severe, immediate pain
  • Swelling that may occur immediately after the trauma 
  • Difficulty moving the finger or inability to move it at all 
  • Bruising around the injured area 
  • The finger appears bent in a strange position or is crooked when compared to the other fingers 
  • A grinding sensation when trying to move the finger straight or up and down. 

How to Treat a Broken Finger

Ultimately, although it's important to be aware of the symptoms yourself, you'll need to have a broken finger diagnosed by an orthopedic surgeon. Treatment for a broken finger depends on the type, location, and severity of the fracture.

Dr. Mark Yaffe is experienced in helping patients recover their fingers' mobility and get back to life as normal. He prefers to use conservative treatment options first, including:

  • Splints: A splint or cast may be used to put the fingers and joints back into proper alignment as they heal. 
  • Ice: Applying ice to the injured area can help reduce swelling and pain. 
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter or prescription medications may be recommended to reduce pain associated with a fracture.  
  • Physical therapy: Exercises focusing on range of motion, strength, and flexibility can help improve finger mobility and ensure that the fracture is healing properly. 

In the case of a severe fracture, surgery may be required. If surgery to repair broken bones is necessary, Dr. Yaffe and his team will discuss the procedure in detail with you beforehand to ensure that you are fully informed on the best way to treat your broken finger.

Visit Chicagoland's Top Orthopaedic Hand Specialist

Finger fractures can be painful and debilitating, but understanding the differences between finger fractures and strains as well as the risk factors can help you identify when an injury may require medical attention.

If you suspect your finger is fractured, make an appointment with Dr. Mark Yaffe to receive a thorough evaluation and discuss treatment options. With his experience and expertise in orthopedic hand surgery, he can help you obtain the best possible outcome for your injury.

Get back on the road to pain-free hands with Greater Chicago's top upper extremity specialist. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Mark Yaffe at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists today.