According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 678 people presented to Australian Hospitals with a sprained finger. The metacarpophalangeal joint (also known as the knuckle) is the common location of a sprained finger. According to the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 25.2% of all serious worker’s compensations are due to strains and sprains of the hand and wrist (which include sprained fingers). 
The fingers are made up of three joints, starting from the tip to the knuckle, including the distal interphalangeal, proximal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joint. A sprained finger is a general term used to describe a ligament injury to any one of these joints along the finger.
Read on to understand what you should know about a sprained finger; the risk factors, treatment options and expected recovery time.
What is a Sprained Finger?
A sprained finger refers to an overstretch or tear injury to the ligaments surrounding the many joints in the fingers. Sprained fingers are classified as grade 1 to 3 depending on severity, ranging from a partial to full tear of the ligament(s).
What are the symptoms of a sprained finger?
A finger sprain causes a lot of pain due to the sensitivity of the ligaments. The hand has more nerve endings than most of the body, allowing you to feel light touch accurately.
Depending on the severity of your condition, you may experience the following symptoms:
Grade 1: Your joint is intact and stable, however mild damage and microtears are present in the ligaments.
Grade 2: You have mild instability in the finger joints and partial tearing of the ligaments.
Grade 3: Significant instability and severe or complete tear of the ligaments. Affected fingers may also be dislocated and with noticeable discolouration and swelling.
Common symptoms of a sprained finger
Difficulty moving the fingers
Tenderness or pain when you put pressure on your finger joints
Stiffness when bending or straightening your fingers.
What causes a sprained finger?
The main cause of finger sprains are acute injuries, specifically when the affected finger is bent back too far (hyperextension) usually as a result of a fall or a sporting injury.
Common causes of a finger sprain
Sports that increase the risk of a sprained finger
Sports that involve contact with the fingers and hands are linked to sprained fingers.
A finger sprain is usually caused by some form of trauma or direct injury. It is best to have your finger assessed immediately if you have an injury involving your hands or finger to check for a sprained finger and have it treated.
How is a finger sprain diagnosed?
A finger sprain can be painful and limit your ability to perform complex tasks involving the hands and fingers. Severe blows to the fingers can lead to instability and extreme pain.
There are several options available when it comes to diagnosing your finger sprain. One of the most common and most recommended by Australian GPs is an assessment from a physiotherapist.
Physiotherapists are joint rehabilitation experts that deal with pain conditions. They are qualified to diagnose and provide proper treatment for your sprained finger.
A physiotherapy assessment will begin with a few questions about your injury and how it has occurred; the more information you can provide, the easier an accurate diagnosis will be.
After establishing a background of your condition, your physiotherapist will perform a physical test on your finger and hands. Your physiotherapist may ask you to move your fingers and test your fingers in different directions to assess the integrity of your joints.
Your physiotherapist will then create a detailed treatment plan for you that will guide you through your recovery.
This may include:
Specific treatment program
Home exercise programs
Splint and orthotic prescriptions
Pain management strategies.
How is a sprained finger treated?
Having a finger sprain can be frustrating and may prevent you from participating in sports for a few days. Fortunately, finger sprains are highly treatable.
There are several options when it comes to treating a sprained finger. One of the more common and the treatment option referred to by Australian GPs the most frequently is physiotherapy.
A sprained finger is a common sports injury that physiotherapists routinely see at the clinic. They are in the best position to rehabilitate and give quality care to help you recover from injury.
Your treatment will focus on decreasing your pain, managing signs of inflammation, and stabilising your finger joints.
Depending on the severity of your sprained finger, a physiotherapist may provide you with a combination of the following types of treatments:
Manual therapy - It is important to maintain good movement of the joints around your injury. Your physiotherapist will use manual therapy to help achieve this movement.
Taping - Specialised techniques provide additional stability to the fingers and prevent further damage to the hand or fingers.
Therapeutic Exercises - Exercise techniques to help the muscles and soft tissues heal and improve the movement of your fingers.
Strengthening and dexterity exercises - Used in the later stage of your recovery to improve the overall function of your fingers and prevent reinjury.
A typical physiotherapy session with your local physiotherapist will last anywhere between 30-60 minutes. It is not uncommon for patients to feel the benefits in just one session.
Next step - Creating a treatment plan made for you
After your physiotherapy assessment, your physiotherapist will create a specific treatment plan based on your goals and lifestyle to maximise your recovery.
Self-care for a finger sprain
If you think you have a finger sprain, here are the best things you can do and avoid.
Things to do:
Resting your fingers can help your ligaments to heal.
Apply ice or a cold compress on your fingers for 15 minutes every 2-4 hours to control the swelling and signs of inflammation.
Use elastic bandages or tape to provide adequate compression and help manage the swelling.
Elevate your hands above the level of your heart to minimise the fluid build up on your fingers.
Use orthotic splints or buddy tape the affected fingers to prevent any further injury.
Things to avoid:
- Avoid high-impact activities
Avoid high-impact activities that involve physical contact with your affected fingers.
Do I need a specialist or surgery?
A physical assessment is usually enough to form a diagnosis of a sprained finger. However your GP may order diagnostic imaging tests to check for further damage or injury.
Several diagnostic imaging techniques can be done to check the status of your bones and ligaments.
Your doctor may prescribe you anti-inflammatory medications to help you manage the pain. In severe cases, a complete tear of the ligaments with significant instability may require surgery to fix.
Your GP may coordinate with your physiotherapist to rehabilitate your injury and improve the overall outcome of your treatment.
What is the recovery time / prognosis for a sprained finger?
Ultimately, recovery time is dependent on being proactive and seeking professional treatment along with the severity of your finger pain and injury.
Full recovery from a finger sprain can be achieved within 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of your injury. Several conditions such as fractures and arthritis may complicate recovery.
It is vital to have an appropriate rest and avoid unnecessary movements of the fingers while you are healing. Mild to moderate sprains can heal within six weeks if treated effectively.
More importantly, physiotherapy can improve your overall outcome and help reverse the effects of immobilisation, such as stiffness and a decrease in your strength and range of motion.
Can a sprained finger be prevented?
It is impossible to guarantee prevention of such an injury, however, there are things that can be done to minimise the risk.
- Wear appropriate gloves – Several sports allow you to wear hand gloves such as golf and football to protect your hands and fingers, reducing the risk of a finger sprain. The same applies to gardening or handyman work.
Getting unlucky and jamming your hand in a door or getting twisted up in a tackle in footy is pretty hard to avoid. Sometimes injuries happen, and there isn’t much we can do about it but get the best treatment as soon as possible.
Outlook and the main takeaways
Mild to moderate finger strains are highly treatable. It is essential to be mindful of your hands and finger injuries, as they can significantly limit your work and other vital activities. Don’t let these things linger, book an appointment to see a physiotherapist near you, have your finger sprain assessed, and start your recovery immediately.
Anatomy of the finger
Your finger is composed of three phalangeal bones, tendons and strong ligaments.
The fingers move by the pulling actions of the forearm muscles on your finger tendons.
In between the phalangeal bones are your finger joints connected by the collateral ligaments of your fingers. These ligaments provide stability around your fingers and allow you to do complex movements without dislocating the phalangeal bones.
Direct impact or hyperextension of the fingers can overstretch the collateral ligaments to their limits causing tears and damage resulting in a finger sprain.