Details types of injuries to the fingers, hands, and wrists. Discusses possible emergency situations. Includes worksheet to help you decide when to seek care. Offers home treatment and prevention tips.
Finger, Hand, and Wrist Injuries
one time or another, everyone has had a minor injury to a finger, hand, or
wrist that caused pain or swelling. Most of the time our body movements do not
cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday
wear and tear, overuse, or an injury.
Finger, hand, or wrist
injuries most commonly occur during:
Sports or recreational
Work or projects around
the home, especially if using machinery such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, or
The risk of finger, hand, or wrist injury is higher in
contact sports, such as wrestling, football, or soccer, and in high-speed
sports, such as biking, in-line skating, skiing, snowboarding, and
skateboarding. Sports that require weight-bearing on the hands and arms, such
as gymnastics, can increase the risk for injury. Sports that use hand equipment
such as ski poles, hockey or lacrosse sticks, or racquets also increase the
risk of injury.
In children, most finger, hand, or wrist injuries
occur during sports or play or from accidental falls. Any injury occurring at
the end of a long bone near a joint may injure the growth plate (physis) and
needs to be evaluated.
Older adults are at higher risk for injuries
and fractures because they lose muscle mass and bone strength (osteopenia) as they age. They also have more problems
with vision and balance, which increases their risk of accidental
Most minor injuries will heal on their own, and home
treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve symptoms and promote
Sudden (acute) injury
An acute injury may occur from
a direct blow, a penetrating injury, or a fall, or from twisting, jerking,
jamming, or bending a limb abnormally. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising
and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Acute injuries include:
Bruises. After a wrist or hand injury,
bruising may extend to the fingers from the effects of gravity.
Tendon pain is
actually a symptom of tendinosis, a series of very small tears (microtears) in
the tissue in or around the
tendon. In addition to pain and tenderness, common
symptoms of tendon injury include decreased strength and movement in the
De Quervain's disease can occur in the
hand and wrist when tendons and the tendon covering (sheath) on the thumb side
of the wrist swell and become inflamed.
Treatment for a finger, hand, or wrist
injury may include first aid measures; medicine; "buddy-taping" for support;
application of a brace, splint, or cast; physical therapy; and in some cases,
surgery. Treatment depends on:
The location, type, and severity of the
How long ago the injury occurred.
health condition, and activities (such as work,
sports, or hobbies).
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Major trauma is any event that can
cause very serious injury, such as:
A fall from more than
10 ft (3.1 m) [more than
5 ft (1.5 m) for children under
2 years and adults over 65].
A car crash in which any vehicle
involved was going more than
20 miles (32 km) per
Any event that causes severe bleeding that you cannot
Any event forceful enough to badly break a bone.
You may need a tetanus shot depending
on how dirty the wound is and how long it has been since your last shot.
For a dirty wound that has
things like dirt, saliva, or feces in it, you may need a shot if:
You haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 5
You don't know when your last shot was.
For a clean wound, you may
need a shot if:
You have not had a tetanus shot in the past 10
You don't know when your last shot was.
With severe bleeding, any of these may
Blood is pumping from the wound.
bleeding does not stop or slow down with pressure.
Blood is quickly soaking through bandage after bandage.
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
The bleeding slows or stops with pressure but
starts again if you remove the pressure.
The blood may soak through
a few bandages, but it is not fast or out of control.
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
The bleeding stops on its own or with
The bleeding stops or slows to an ooze or trickle after
15 minutes of pressure. It may ooze or trickle for up to 45 minutes.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that the child can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep,
and can't do anything else except focus on the pain. No one can tolerate severe
pain for more than a few hours.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt the child's normal activities and
sleep, but the child can tolerate it for hours or days.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The child notices and may complain of the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt his or her sleep or activities.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Being very sleepy or hard
to wake up.
Not responding when being touched or talked to.
Breathing much faster than usual.
The child may not know where he or she is.
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood
supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons
for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn
blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color
returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area
looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and
this change does not go away.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Splint the injured area without trying to straighten
the injured limb. Loosen the wrap around the splint if signs develop that
indicate the wrap is too tight, such as numbness, tingling, increased pain,
swelling, or cool skin below the wrap. A problem called
compartment syndrome can develop.
If you do not have
peripheral arterial disease, a sore or sprained
finger can be "buddy-taped" to the uninjured finger next to it. Protect the
skin by putting some soft padding, such as felt or foam, between your fingers
before you tape them together. The injured finger may need to be buddy-taped
for 2 to 4 weeks to heal. If your injured finger hurts more after you have
buddy-taped it, remove the tape. Then check your symptoms again. Caution: Never splint a
finger in a completely straight position, such as on a Popsicle stick. For
proper healing, the finger should be slightly bent and in a relaxed position.
Do not use your injured hand or wrist for the first 24
hours after an injury, if possible. An elastic bandage can help decrease
swelling. The wrap will also remind you to rest the injured hand or wrist. A
wrist splint can help support an injured wrist. Talk
to your doctor if you think you need to use a splint or bandage for more than
48 to 72 hours.
Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and
encourage blood flow. Do not massage the injured area if it causes
For the first 48 hours after an injury, avoid things that
might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic
After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply
heat and begin
gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help
restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between
heat and cold treatments.
If a cast or splint is applied,
be sure to keep it dry and to try to move your extremity as normally as
possible to help maintain muscle strength and tone. Your doctor will give you
instructions on how to
care for your cast or splint.
Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows
healing, because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more
information, see the topic
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your pain:
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Reduce the speed and force of repetitive
movements in activities such as hammering, typing, knitting, quilting,
sweeping, raking, playing racquet sports, or rowing.
positions when you hold objects, such as a book or playing cards, for any length
Use your whole hand to grasp an object. Gripping with only
your thumb and index finger can stress your wrist.
gloves that support the wrist and have vibration-absorbing padding when working
with tools that vibrate.
Use safety measures, such as gloves, and
follow instructions for the proper use of hand and power tools.
caution when using knives in preparing food or craft activities. Supervise a
child using knives or sharp scissors in craft activities.
protective gear, such as wrist guards, in sports activities. Be sure to learn what you can do to help prevent injuries for your child too.
your work posture and body mechanics.
Organize your work so that you can change
your position occasionally while maintaining a comfortable
Position your work so you do not have to turn excessively
to either side.
Keep your shoulders relaxed when your arms are
hanging by your sides.
When using a keyboard, keep your forearms
parallel to the floor or slightly lowered, and keep your fingers lower than your
wrists. Allow your arms and hands to move freely. Take frequent breaks to
stretch your fingers, hands, wrist, shoulders, and neck. If you use a wrist pad
during breaks from typing, it's best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand
on the support, rather than your wrist.
step stool. Do not stand on chairs or other unsteady objects.
protective gear during sports or recreational activities, such as
roller-skating or soccer. Supportive splints, such as wrist guards, may reduce
your risk for injury.
Warm up well and stretch before any activity.
Stretch after exercise to keep hot muscles from shortening and
Use the correct techniques (movements) or positions
during activities so that you do not strain your muscles.
overusing your hand and wrist doing repeated movements that can injure your
bursa or tendon. In daily routines or hobbies, examine
activities in which you make repeated arm movements.
taking lessons to learn the proper techniques for sports. Have a trainer or
person who is familiar with sports equipment check your equipment to see if it
is well-suited for your level of ability, body size, and body
If you feel that certain activities at your workplace are
causing pain or soreness from overuse, talk to your human resources department
for information on other ways of doing your job or to discuss equipment
modifications or other job assignments.
Keep your bones strong
Eat a nutritious diet with enough
vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
Calcium is found in dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt; dark
green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli; and other
Exercise and stay active. It is best to do weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting weights, for 2½ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. In addition to weight-bearing exercise, experts recommend that you do resistance exercises at least 2 days a week. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you. Begin slowly, especially if you have not been active. For
more information, see the topic
Don't drink more than 2 alcoholic
drinks a day if you are a man, or 1 alcoholic drink a day if you are a woman.
People who drink more than this may be at higher risk for weakening bones
(osteoporosis). Alcohol use also increases your risk of
falling and breaking a bone.
Don't smoke or use other tobacco
products. Smoking puts you at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis. It
also interferes with blood supply and healing. For more information, see the
Injuries such as bruises, burns,
fractures, cuts, or punctures may be a sign of
abuse. Suspect possible abuse when an injury cannot be
explained or does not match the explanation, repeated injuries occur, or the
explanations for the cause of the injury change. You may be able to prevent
further abuse by reporting it and seeking help.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.