Finger Sprain

ExitCare ImageA sprain is an injury where a ligament is over-stretched or torn. A ligament holds joints together. Finger sprains are a common injury among athletes. Sprains are classified into 3 categories. Grade 1 sprains cause pain, but the ligament is not lengthened. Grade 2 sprains include a lengthened ligament, due to stretching or partial tearing. With grade 2 sprains, there is still function, although function may be decreased. Grade 3 sprains are marked by a complete tear of the ligament. The joint usually suffers a loss of function. Severe sprains sometimes require surgery.


  • Severe pain, at the time of injury.

  • Often, a feeling of popping or tearing inside one or more fingers.

  • Tenderness, swelling, and later bruising in the finger.

  • Impaired ability to use the injured finger.


Stress, often from an unnatural degree of movement, exceeds the strength of the ligament, and the ligament is either stretched or torn.


  • Previous finger sprain or injury.

  • Contact sports and sports involving catching and throwing (i.e. baseball, basketball, football).

  • Poor hand strength and flexibility.

  • Inadequate or poorly fitting protective equipment.


Taping, protective strapping, bracing, or splints may help prevent injury.


For first time injuries, sufficient healing time before resuming activity should prevent recurring injury or permanent impairment. Due to poor blood supply, ligaments do not heal well, and require a longer healing time than other structures, such as bone. Average healing times are as follows:

  • Grade 1: 2-6 weeks.

  • Grade 2: 8-12 weeks.

  • Grade 3: 12-16 weeks.


  • Longer healing time, if activity is resumed too soon.

  • Frequently recurring symptoms and repeated injury, resulting in a chronic problem.

  • Injury to other structures (bone, cartilage, or tendon).

  • Arthritis of the affected joint.

  • Prolonged impairment (sometimes).

  • Finger stiffness.


Treatment first consists of ice and medicine, to reduce pain and inflammation. Compression bandages and elevation may help reduce inflammation and discomfort. After swelling goes down, the joint should be restrained for a length of time prescribed by your caregiver. After restraint, stretching and strengthening exercises are needed. Exercises may be completed at home or with a therapist. Rarely, surgical treatment is needed. Taping may be advised, when returning to sports.


  • If pain medicine is needed, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (aspirin and ibuprofen), or other minor pain relievers (acetaminophen), are often advised.

  • Do not take pain medicine for 7 days before surgery.

  • Stronger pain relievers may be prescribed by your caregiver. Use only as directed and only as much as you need.


  • Cold treatment (icing) relieves pain and reduces inflammation. Cold treatment should be applied for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours, and immediately after activity that aggravates your symptoms. Use ice packs or an ice massage.

  • Heat treatment may be used before performing stretching and strengthening activities prescribed by your caregiver, physical therapist, or athletic trainer. Use a heat pack or a warm water soak.


  • Pain, swelling, or bruising gets worse, despite treatment, or you experience persistent pain lasting more than 2 to 4 weeks.

  • You experience pain, numbness, discoloration, or coldness in the hand or fingers. Blue, gray, or dark color appears in the fingernails.

  • Any of the following occur after surgery: increased pain, swelling, redness, drainage of fluids, bleeding in the affected area, or signs of infection, including fever.

  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. (Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.)