Our hands have more than 30 bones and major joints. So it’s no wonder our fingers are vulnerable to sprains and strains this time of year, during the heights of the baseball and softball seasons.
The force of a fall or a flying ball can easily bend and injure our fingertips. Some of the most common injuries include :
• Mallet fingers
A sprain happens when you overstretch or tear a ligament — the tough tissue that holds our finger bones together. Ligaments are often completely torn with a dislocation of a finger joint.
While a sprained finger may feel better after several weeks, soreness often persists for six to nine months.
Strains are damage to tendons, which connect muscles to bones. In the hand, the most common example of this is a mallet finger.
A mallet finger injury happens when we rupture an extensor tendon at its insertion into the last bone in the finger tip. In healthy fingers, the extensor tendon allows us to straighten the finger tip, but a mallet finger injury renders it impossible to straighten this joint. The majority of these injuries can be treated conservatively with a splint, but delay in treatment can compromise the ultimate result. So it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately.
Fractures of the small bones in our fingers should also be evaluated by a doctor immediately. The majority of fractures in the hand can be treated conservatively. However, some fractures require surgery.
In children, finger fractures present special issues. On the one hand, children are able to remodel their bones given the presence of growth plates. This means that a finger that is angulated or deformed can turn into a straight bone as the child grows. But if there’s any rotation at the fracture site, the bone will not remodel. Another special consideration with children is that it’s possible to injure the growth plates in fingers, which could result in abnormal growth of the digit.
With finger injuries in general and fractures in particular, stiffness in finger joints is common. Patients need to work hard to regain motion and flexibility. A specialized hand therapist is frequently necessary to address stiff fingers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Most finger injuries have similar symptoms:
• Limited motion
Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) work well for minor sprains. You should see your doctor if the pain and symptoms persist after one or two days. Sprains can be diagnosed by physical examination while fractures are diagnosed by X-ray.
See your doctor immediately if you think you have a fractured or dislocated finger. He or she will administer the appropriate treatment, which may include realigning the fracture, if necessary, or immobilizing the finger in a splint or a cast. In some cases, surgery may be required to realign and/or stabilize a fracture.
If not treated, finger injuries can sideline athletes of all ages for months. Stay in the game — see your doctor for early medical care.
Eric Stuffmann, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and hand surgeon affiliated with Eden Medical Center.
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