3 Common Finger Injuries in Athletes

Olympic athletes, sports professionals, weekend warriors, young, old, and everything in between all use their fingers as they play, which makes finger injuries in athletes a common problem.

Even wearing proper gear can’t always prevent these injuries from occurring, but being more aware of them certainly won’t hurt your chances of avoiding trauma to your fingers.

Commonalities of Frequent Finger Injuries

Most injuries to the finger involve a direct blow to the end of the finger or forcing it beyond its normal range of motion.  The damage can involve the tendon, bone, ligament, or muscle.

With most finger injuries you can expect swelling to occur, and there will almost certainly be pain. It is also likely that you will be able to see that the finger is out of place or wounded in some way.

Best practice is to immediately apply ice and elevate the injury. The next series of treatments should involve the following:

  • Protection of the finger
  • Immobilization of the thumb or finger in order to hold it in the correct position for optimal healing
  • Rehabilitation so that the finger can eventually heal and return to normal functions

Lasting deformities can result from even a minor injury if these three steps are not followed along with securing treatment as soon as possible. Regardless of the injury or its severity, prompt attention by a specialist that can help ensure long term recovery and restored ability of the affected finger(s).

Skier’s Thumb

This acute but common injury is also known as Gate Keeper’s Thumb.  It happens as an athlete falls forward and bends the thumb backward, leading to tearing of the ligament at the base of the thumb. If there is a dislocation, it will prevent the thumb from pointing too far away from the hand. Hockey and soccer goalies often succumb to this injury.

Repairing the ligament is crucial since our thumb is responsible for approximately 50% of hand functions. Even simple motions like holding a key or a glass of water require the imposition of the thumb.

Timely treatment by a doctor is essential for healing. Sometimes surgery is also needed to reattach the ligament.

Jammed Finger

A jammed finger is a sprain of the ligaments supporting the joint. This injury is sometimes known as Basketball Finger since it often occurs when the hand comes into contact with the ball. This condition can range from a mild sprain to complete dislocation.

These injuries can be corrected by pulling on the finger to force it back into place, or it can require a more complex intervention if it is severe. However, it is never advised to try and treat a jammed finger on your own by pulling the finger, as you could easily make the injury much worse. Swelling and stiffness will take a long time to resolve, and sometimes it never dissipates completely.

One particular type of jam is the Boutonniere, which occurs when the injury is located in the middle joint and the athlete is unable to straighten that joint. An additional injury can occur with the dislocation of the middle joint if the Volar Plate is torn. In this case a dislocation which was pulled back into place may “pop out” of place later. It is not stable and medical intervention is required.

Mallet Finger

Mallet finger is an athletic injury to the tip of the finger. This condition is similar to a jammed finger, but here you cannot straighten the finger out normally. A mallet finger is also distinguished by the dropped finger deformity. This injury requires a splint to be worn for 6 weeks minimum which cannot be removed. It may also need additional splinting at night for several more weeks. A case of mallet finger rarely needs surgery, but immobilization is absolutely critical for recovery.

A Word of Caution

Finger injuries that don’t seem severe at first, but remain untreated, can put all athletes from professionals to little league players on the sidelines for much longer than they planned. Just because you can move your finger, doesn’t mean the injury is not serious, or that you don’t require treatment.

Atlantic Pediatric Ortho will examine the injury and use diagnostic tools like an X-ray or an MRI to determine the extent of a patient’s finger injury.