X-ray of a dislocated finger

X-ray of a dislocated finger.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You’re picking up debris and swing your hand around. A finger hits a board, hard. Ouch. You look at your finger and it’s crooked. Not a little. A lot. You can’t move the joint.

Even if you can’t get to a medical facility, there’s no need to panic. Instead, recognize the type of injury and treat accordingly.

If your finger’s truly distorted—and usually there’s no doubt—then you’ve broken it or dislocated a joint.

How to Treat a Dislocated Finger If You Can’t Get Expert Help

If you have a dislocated finger, you’re going to see more than just joint swelling. The end of one bone will be lying on top of the end of the other. You won’t be able to move that joint.

If you can’t get medical help, grab the fingertip firmly. You may need some cloth or a rubber glove so you can get a good hold. Pull firmly and continuously. Pull harder and harder, but never jerk. You’re trying to stretch the tendons just enough that the ends separate. If they do, the tips will slip right back into place. After that, splint the finger for six weeks.

How to Treat a Broken Finger If You Can’t Get Expert Help

A dislocation will always be at the joint, but a break can occur anywhere along the finger. If the digit is decidedly crooked and you can’t get to a doctor, you may have to pull to straighten it, like you would for a dislocated finger. Splint it for six weeks. Include the adjacent joints in the splint. (Learn more about splinting in this post about jammed fingers.)

Often, a swollen finger can fool you.The swelling distorts the finger just enough that you think it’s crooked. So look closely since pulling on it causes unnecessary pain.


Important note: Either of these finger injuries can cause ligament and tendon damage, which can affect permanent finger function. See a doctor as soon as you can.

In the next posts I’ll write about finger-joint injuries that require a little more-specific splinting, like mallet and boutonniere deformities.

Photo by Hellerhoff, via Wikimedia Commons.