Jammed Finger? Don't Let it Keep You Sidelined 

Got a jammed finger? It's one of the most common injuries of playing basketball. I can't tell you how many I've had over the years. 

jammed finger

A finger jam keeps most players sidelined for a few days to a couple weeks, depending on the severity. But by taking the proper steps, you can minimize your time on the injured list.

What is a jammed finger?

A finger jam is actually an extremely painful sprain of the finger joint, or knuckle. It occurs when the tip of the finger(s) takes a significant hit that causes it to compress toward the hand. As a result, the finger is unable to bend, straighten or grip.

It happens all the time.

A player reaches out to catch a pass or grab a rebound, and the ball hits the tip of the finger. Or a player's hand hits another player, the wall, the floor, or another object.

In each case, the blow causes the finger to jam in toward the hand, stretching the supporting ligaments, causing them to sprain. The greater the force, the worse the sprain. If strong enough, a fracture or torn ligament could result.

Goals for treatment

The key to quick and complete healing lies in the following 3 goals:

  1. Get the swelling down
  2. Protect the injured joint
  3. Strengthen the finger

Decrease the swelling

The following actions should be taken immediately.

Ice it

Wrap the injured finger with an ice pack, cold gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables. Submerging the finger in a bowl of ice water will also do the trick. It's a good idea to wrap the ice packs in a thin towel to keep the finger from getting too cold. 

Apply ice for 15-20 minutes. Cold temperature slows down the blood flow and helps eliminate swelling.  After about an hour or two, ice it again. Repeat several times as necessary.

Compress it

Wrap an elastic bandage around the the finger to reduce swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly. You want to reduce but not cut off blood flow. Definitely loosen the wrap if the finger starts to feel numb, pain increases, or swelling occurs below the wrapped area.

Elevate it

Keep the finger above the level of the heart as much as possible. This position keeps fluid from accumulating in the joint.

Protect the injured joint

Rest it

A jammed finger needs time to heal, anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. It's a good idea to avoid playing, if possible, to allow time for the swelling to go down and movement to return.

Splint it

The best way to protect the sprained finger is with some type of splint to eliminate the potential for repeated injury while it's healing. There are several ways to do this:

Buddy tape - Using medical tape or self-adhesive wrap, tape the jammed finger to an adjacent finger. Place a piece of tape above the injured knuckle and one below.

Splint - For a homemade remedy, break a Popsicle stick about the length of the finger, and tape the finger to the splint above and below the joint. For greater protection, the splint can extend a little above the finger tip. Or, apply a splint on both sides of the joint for maximum protection. 

You can also buy a finger splint with a metal support and straps that wrap around the finger.

A jammed thumb is a little trickier to splint since there's not a good way to immobilize it with another finger. A thumb splint provides good protection.

Basketball finger sleeve / splint

Thumb splint

Strengthen the finger

Move it

After about 3-5 days, the swelling and pain should be down. If so, it's time to try to move it. At first you might need to passively move it by holding the finger tip with the opposite hand and attempting to bend and straighten it. 

If the pain gets worse or the finger doesn't move easily, it's time to see a doctor who may need to take an X-ray to determine if the finger is broken or dislocated.

Use it or Lose it

Try to return to normal use as soon as possible. It's easy to avoid using the injured finger and over-compensating with others. So, how do you regain strength in the jammed finger? Here are some ideas:

  • Make a fist by slowing opening and closing the hand.
  • Squeeze a ball - Start with little resistance, like a balloon, and move up to a stress ball or tennis ball. Increase the size of the ball as well.
  • Open the hand and touch each finger to the thumb to increase mobility.

When is it time to see the doctor?

Most of the time, a jammed finger heals pretty quickly and completely without the need for a doctor visit. However, here are some signs indicating more than a sprain might be involved. If you notice any of these, a trip to the doctor is warranted:

  • Immediate bruising is an indication something more serious might be involved like a torn ligament
  • Finger can't bend or straighten at all
  • Pain in the area above or below the joint
  • Swelling doesn't go down
  • Pain gets worse
  • Finger looks deformed
  • Area gets hot and inflamed and fever develops
  • Finger becomes numb or loses it's color
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