Broken fingers – Symptoms
It is often difficult to tell if your finger is broken or not. Pain is almost inevitable, especially when pressing over the broken area, but sprains and strains can also
If your finger is deformed then it is likely to be broken or dislocated.
Often, the only way to be certain is to get an x-ray of the finger.
How are broken fingers treated?
Minor cracks or chips in the bone are often able to be treated quite easily. Strapping or bandaging of the fingers allows the break to heal within about three weeks. Occasionally, asplint may be used to hold the break in place while it heals.
If the break has caused the bone fragments to move by a large amount, then finger manipulation may be needed to realign the bone. A splint is then used to hold the bone in place while it heals.
Some broken fingers need operations to give them the best chance of healing. This can be due to the break being unstable (ie after manipulation, the bone ends are being pulled out of place by adjacent muscles).
What operations may be needed for broken fingers?
- K-wires – Kirschner, or ‘K’ wires are thin metal rods that are passed across the broken bones. These hold the break in place until it is healed, usually three weeks later. The wires are usually left with a short length exposed at the skin, and are usually removed with very little discomfort by simply pulling them out with special pliers. The wires need to be kept clean while they are in place, as bacteria could otherwise track to the fracture site to cause a bone infection – this is very hard to then treat and could lead to serious consequences
- Plate fixation – small metal plates are used to span the fracture site, being held in place with small screws. The plates are left in the finger permanently, often un-noticed
- Interosseous wires – these are thin wires, much like fuse wires. They are used to tie the broken finger bones together. Often, these can be left in place permanently
- External fixation – complex finger breaks may need this form of fixation to hold fragments in place while they heal. Usually, a thick pin is placed through the skin into the bone either side of the break. A metal bar then spans between the pins, keeping them and therefore the bones still. This is kept in place until the fracture is healed, usually three to four weeks.
What can go wrong with broken fingers?
- Delayed union – this is where the break takes longer to heal than expected. Whilst this can be an inconvenience, it still results in a fixed bone
- Mal-union – the fracture heals in a poor position. If this causes problems with hand function, then further procedures on the finger may be needed
- Non-union – the fracture does not heal, even after many weeks. Further procedures may be needed
- Infection – infected bone is called osteomyelitis, and can be extremely hard to treat. A lengthy course of antibiotics or further surgery can clear the infection, although occasionally the infection does not clear and can even, in a worst case scenario, lead to amputation of the affected finger
- Stiffness – this is a common result of having a broken finger. Due to a combination of splinting and the break itself, the affected finger may never gain the same movement as before the injury. Physiotherapy helps to reduce this risk
- Pain – well-healed fractures often cause little problem, although it is quite common to get ‘niggling’ aches and pains in the fracture area, especially during cold weather or when using the hand for heavy