I often hear patients say – “It’s just a finger. I don’t really need treatment, do I?” The simple answer is yes. Injuries such as finger fractures are tricky. The finger is designed to perform very fine, coordinated motions. If an injury disrupts that motion it can significantly impact everyday activities like eating, typing, dialing a phone or even tying a shoe.
There are a number of ways to tell if you’ve broken your finger. If you experience pain while touching the bone, if your finger becomes swollen, appears deformed or if you have difficulty moving it, you may have a fractured finger. If you do show any of these signs, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your orthopedic physician will evaluate the extent of the injury, and will recommend either a simple treatment, such as the use of a splint, or surgery if it’s more severe.
How a finger fracture is treated is based on three factors. Using an X-ray, your physician will determine if the injury caused damage to the joint of your finger or if there are any irregularities to the joint surface. Secondly, your physician will determine if your fracture is stable or unstable. Depending on the level of stability, your physician can tell if your fracture will have a tendency to slip out of position over time. Finally, your finger will be checked for deformities. This is done by making a fist. If your fingers do not line up, cross or appear shorter than they should, you may have a rotational deformity.
It may be “just a finger,” but if the fracture is unstable, the joint surfaces do not line up well, or if there is a deformity that needs correction, surgery may be necessary to prevent future problems. Best case scenario, if treatment is not needed, a small splint may be applied to protect the injured finger.
Remember, even though it may be “just a finger,” losing the use of just one finger can have a significant impact on an individual’s lifestyle.
– Dale S. Snead M.D.