A broken finger can be painful and frustrating, making a person keenly aware of how often the fingers are moved for even the smallest of tasks. If you need to treat a broken finger and don't have immediate access to medical care, tape or tie it to a non-broken neighboring finger with sticks of some sort on the outside of the two, creating an impromptu, immobilizing splint. Then use an ice pack and over-the-counter pain reliever to keep the swelling down on the way to a medical professional.
Jewelry Off, Splint On
Leaving a ring on a broken finger could cause severe circulatory complications later on, blocking blood flow as swelling intensifies. Unless there is additional damage, such as burned flesh, or the pressure creates too much pain, remove any rings from finger that might be broken as soon as possible. Cooking oil can can be used to help it slide off more easily.
It is important to keep a broken finger as immobilized as possible, protected from any movement at all. Applying a finger splint is often the safest and most practical way to accomplish this. Finger splints can be made using whatever is handy — two Popsicle® sticks and masking tape, two chopsticks from the kitchen and string, or two thin but sturdy twigs and some twine all would work well. The two sticks are then tied firmly on the outside of the fingers, tight enough to prevent the fingers from moving, but not so tight that circulation is blocked.
When It's Broken
If in doubt, medical professionals nearly all agree: Wrap the finger up and let an x-ray be the judge. A broken finger typically will create a throbbing pain that's impossible to ignore, particularly when moved in any way. Some form of disfiguring will often be evident, too, along with fairly immediate swelling to the site.
It's best to let a medical professional decide the proper treatment as soon as possible. What feels like a broken finger could be a jam, sprain, or more acute ligament damage, and a different type of treatment will be needed for each.
Reducing Pain, Swelling
Using over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen can help minimize the inflammation until a medical professional can prescribe something stronger. Limiting the degree of swelling will make it easier for the doctor or other healthcare professional to set the broken bone perfectly straight. This reduces the chances of the bone healing crooked.
An ice pack can often help just as much to reduce swelling and pain on the way to the healthcare provider. Don't apply ice directly to the finger or hand, however, as this can damage the skin. Instead, put some ice inside a freezer bag, which can then go inside a towel.
The finger should be elevated above the heart to further limit blood flow and swelling before and after a permanent splint can be applied. This, in turn, should reduce the throbbing pain. If the end of the finger is broken, blood may collect under the fingernail. This may be relieved somewhat by elevating the hand, but a medical professional may it out if it causes pain.
In many cases, a relatively simple break will be treated with a permanent splint. Once a medical professional has examined and set the broken finger, if needed, a splint tailored to the finger can be used during the recuperation period. This will give the finger the best chance of healing straight. The healthcare provider can prescribe pain medication, if needed, as well as instruct you on how to properly clean the finger and replace any dressings.
When break is more serious, surgery may be required to fix it. This could involve a surgeon inserting wires or plates into the finger to hold the bones together and make sure they heal correctly. Depending on the device used, they may be left in permanently or, in the case of a special type of wire called a Kirschner wire, removed after the bones have healed. Complicated breaks may need external fixation, which is metal rods are inserted into the finger, then attached outside the body to a plate that holds the bones in place.
Compared to other bones, a broken finger can heal in a relatively short period of time, if actions are taken to quickly immobilize it and seek immediate medical attention. Generally, the finger will heal in a matter of weeks, although it may take a little longer in the case of a complicated break. If a broken finger does not seem to be healing, or there is more pain or inflammation than expected, patients should notify a medical professional immediately.
If you aren't able to splint the finger or get to a hospital quickly, it is possible that the injury will not heal correctly. The injury will usually take longer to heal, and is likely to continue to be extremely painful and stiff. This can make it very difficult to use the finger — and probably the entire hand — normally. A finger that is not set will likely heal crooked, which may make it difficult to grasp and hold objects tightly or without pain.
It's also possible that an untreated break will not heal at all, and therefore continue to be painful and not really usable. The bone could also become infected. If this happens, antibiotics and even surgery might be required to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.