by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

One of the first things I do when I see someone with an injured hand or finger is remove any rings. You’d think the person would have already done this, but sometimes it’s hard to think straight when you have an injury. Also, many are afraid it’s going to hurt (it can), and some think the finger has already swollen too much (sometimes it has).

Neat Trick! When Your Finger Swells Over Your Wedding Ring: What to Do | The Survival DoctorBut the thing is, with a badly swollen finger, the ring acts like a tourniquet, cutting off the blood supply, and you could end up losing your digit. What to do?

If you’re in a situation where you can’t get to a doctor, you probably won’t have a ring cutter, but you might have an oily substance or some strong string or tape. So, here are two nifty tricks for how to remove a ring from a swollen finger:

  1. Use soap and water, or any type of oil, to slip the ring off. It’s amazing how well this works.
  2. Wrap strong string (like dental floss), ribbon-like material (like umbilical tape*), or narrow strips of duct tape around the finger to push the swelling toward the fingertip. Tuck one end of the string under the ring, and pull that end up to help you slide the ring off. I show you how to do this in my video above.

If you happen to have a ring cutter*, great! I’ve never had a ring I couldn’t cut off with this.

The last option is to cut the ring off with a hacksaw, but be very, very careful.

Now, some people are just not going to be able to remove the ring. Good luck that the swelling doesn’t get bad enough to cut off the circulation. I remember reading about a Marine who opted to have his injured finger cut off rather than cut off his wedding ring.

If you don’t get the ring off, try this to reduce the swelling:

  • Use ice packs, five –10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. (Wrap the ice pack with a cloth so it’s not touching your bare skin.)
  • Keep the injured area at heart level or above.

Treat any infection with antibiotics since infection can cause swelling.

Have you ever had a swollen finger with a ring you couldn’t remove? What did you do?

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Photo: Flickr/snowpeak.