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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Broken finger

Matimati tāwhatiwhati

hand bonesEach of your fingers has three bones called the proximal, middle and distal phalanges (phalanges is the plural of phalanx). Your thumb only has two bones, the proximal and distal phalanges.

Although these bones are small, a broken (fractured) finger can cause ongoing issues if it is not treated well. The bones in your hand line up precisely and this is what makes it possible to do many delicate movements, such as holding a pen or manipulating small objects. It also gives us a strong grip for heavier tasks.

Bones can break in several ways: straight across, in a spiral, a small chip (avulsion) or into several pieces.

When you break a bone in your finger, it can affect your ability to use your hand. If you do not get it treated, the finger may stay stiff, painful and difficult to use.

A broken finger usually happens as a result of an injury. For example, when you slam your fingers in a door, put your hand out to break a fall or when your finger jams when you're trying to catch a ball. It can also result from an accident when you're working with tools.

Sometimes you can break and dislocate one of your finger joints at the same time. This can be a more serious injury to treat.

Diagnosing a broken finger

If you have an injury and one or more of the following symptoms, you may have broken a finger:

If you think you've broken a finger, it's important see a doctor, hand therapist or physiotherapist. They will ask questions about how you injured your finger and examine your hand. They may also send you for an X-ray to find out which bone is broken and how it's broken.

Treating a broken finger

How your finger is treated will depend on what the break looks like. Most breaks are simple breaks, with the ends of the two pieces of bone still together. These are usually treated without surgery (often called non-operative management).

In these cases, your finger is likely to be splinted or strapped to another finger to provide extra support (this is often called buddy strapping) until your bone is healing and your finger is feeling more comfortable.

If your break is unstable, displaced (the broken ends aren't together), involves the joint surface or has pulled off an important ligament, you may need surgery.

Self-care for a broken finger

There are some things you can do to help your recovery, whether or not you're having surgery.

On the next page: Surgery for a broken finger

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.


See also:

ACC help after an injury

Broken bones first aid

Living with an injury

Page reference: 344975

Review key: HIWAH-240323