Jammed Finger

A particular type of finger sprain known as a jammed finger is a common injury for ball sport athletes, such as basketball and volleyball players. The risk for a jammed finger is greatest when attempting to catch or hit a ball.

A jammed finger occurs when a blunt force strikes the end of the finger. This impact hyperextends the ligament that connects across the middle knuckle of the finger—known as the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint—causing the ligament to stretch or tear.

Recognizing a Jammed Finger

Common symptoms of a jammed finger include:

  • Pain in the finger’s PIP joint, which can be dull and mild for a slight sprain or sharp and throbbing for a severe sprain
  • Swelling and redness in the PIP joint, which may be more evident when comparing the affected finger with the others
  • Difficulty bending the finger or gripping objects, but the finger can still be bent

If the sprain is severe and the joint has become displaced, the finger may also look crooked or out of joint. It is a common misconception that the individual or a coach should attempt to “pull it out” to realign it—this is not the case. Rather, the finger should be splinted and the person should seek medical attention.

The Difference Between a Jammed and Broken Finger

The same blunt trauma forces that can sprain a finger can also cause a fracture, and it is important to know how to tell the difference between the two.

There are a few distinct symptoms that can help differentiate these injuries:

Jammed Finger

Broken Finger

Mild to moderate pain

Severe pain

Finger able to bend

Finger unable to bend

Swelling recedes after a few hours

Swelling persists

Jammed fingers can be treated at home through self-care, but fractures require assessment by a physician. Individuals in doubt about a potential fracture should seek medical treatment.

When a blunt force strikes the end of a finger, it can cause what’s commonly referred to as a jammed finger: a ligament located at finger’s middle knuckle hyperextends and becomes stretched or torn. Whether or not medical treatment is required depends on the severity of symptoms.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Jammed Finger

If the finger appears misaligned, do not attempt to realign it. Rather, the finger should be splinted and the person should seek medical attention.

Likewise, if the affected finger’s range of motion is significantly limited, it is important to seek an evaluation from a hand surgeon. Limited range of motion in the joint may be a sign of a partial dislocation accompanied by a fracture.

Home Treatment for a Jammed Finger

If a jammed finger is not severe and there is no reason to suspect a fracture, it can be self-treated at home. Below are treatment measures that can help alleviate pain and swelling while the sprain heals.

  • Temporarily immobilize the finger. Protect the finger from further injury using either by “buddy taping” it or using a finger splint.
    • Budding taping involves taping the injured finger and a neighboring finger together. Buddy taping helps protect the jammed finger while also improving its range of motion by allowing it to be a “buddy” to an uninjured finger.
    • Temporarily splinting the finger for 1 to 2 days is okay. A temporary splint may be appropriate if moving the finger is very painful and/or a fracture has not been ruled out. However, if there is no fracture, splinting for longer than 1 to 2 days can negatively affect the joint's long-term healing and range of motion.
  • Take a break from sports or activities that may reinjure or further injure the finger.
  • Use ice therapy to decrease inflammation and dull pain by applying a cold pack to the affected joint for 5 to 10 minutes every few hours.
  • Take anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), as needed.

Once pain and swelling recede, the finger can be reconditioned by exercising the joint—for example, by making a fist or squeezing a stress ball.

Recovery time for a jammed finger is dependent on the degree of injury. It can take a few weeks to many months for the swelling and pain to resolve. Some stiffness may persist. For those returning to sports, buddy taping should be used for a few weeks or until the finger is completely recovered.