God’s work is done through our hands. All our important work and tasks are completed because hands perform their designated function. Hands in particular are the ones that can become easily injured. Finger injury is even more common than injured hands.
The cause of an injured finger may be either a sprain or a broken finger bone. But how do you tell if it is broken or sprained?
1. What Is a Sprain?
A sprain, put simply, is an injury of the ligaments. Ligaments are fibers that hold the bones together in the right place. When these ligaments are stretched beyond their limit, such that they tear, the joint supported by the said ligaments becomes swollen and inflamed.
This injured joint then becomes painful. A painkiller usually helps in making the pain feel better. A jammed part of the body is also a sprained part which is caused not by the hyperextension of the ligaments. On the contrary, it occurs due to injury to a joint which occurs due to hitting it against something. It most commonly can be seen in athletes. Of all sprains, a sprained finger occurs fairly commonly.
2. What Is a Fracture?
A fracture is a break in the continuity of the bone. It is essentially the breakage of bone. It is an acutely painful condition. The broken bone leads to the loss of function in the particular part of the body where the bone is located. Fractures can be minor or major. They can be classified as follows:
2.1 Simple Fracture
When a bone fractures in such a way that it breaks completely separating into two, but the bone does not break the skin, it is known as a simple fracture.
2.2 Compound Fracture
A fracture of a bone that occurs in such a way that the fractured fragments break the skin and are exposed, is referred to as a compound fracture.
2.3 Greenstick Fracture
A fracture that is incomplete, a loss of continuity of bone is seen on one side, but the other side remains intact. This is known as a greenstick fracture. It is most often seen in the long bones of the arms and legs.
Let us focus on the fingers. How does a sprained and a broken finger present and how can to tell if the finger is broken or sprained?
3. Sprained or Jammed Finger
Fingers are often the first part of the hand that faces the impact of an injury. Most commonly sportsmen injure their finger due to the impact while playing the sport, for example, while catching a ball. Thus, jammed fingers are common in sports.
The joint may get injured due to slamming against a hard surface or an object banging against the fingers. Sometimes a sprained or jammed finger might occur while trying to break a fall to protect oneself or while breaking the fall of an object.
3.1 Classification of A Sprained or Jammed Finger
3.1.1 First-Degree Sprain
Mild sprains are where the ligaments are stretched beyond their limit, but are not torn. The person affected experiences some pain and swelling in the affected finger.
3.1.2 Second-Degree Sprain
When the ligaments are stretched beyond their limit, the connective tissues are also affected, thus affecting the joint capsule. The person experiences more pain and swelling than what is experienced with a first-degree sprain. These are known as moderate sprains. The stability of the joint is compromised because of the sprain.
3.1.3 Third-Degree Sprain
This is the most severe form of sprain and requires immediate attention. The ligaments are completely torn which can lead to partial dislocation of the joint. This can lead to intense pain along with temporary loss of function of the sprained finger(s).
3.2 Symptoms of A Sprained or Jammed Finger
- The severity of pain depends on the degree of the sprain
- Swelling and redness which might worsen on movement. The severity again depends on the degree of the sprain
- Difficulty in making regular movements
- Discoloration of the affected finger
- Dislocation of the affected joint if the sprain is of the third degree.
3.3 Diagnosing a Sprained or Jammed Finger
- Thorough physical examination to rule out any possibility of a fracture
- The doctor may advise an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan to rule out any other possibilities and evaluate the integrity of the joint.
- Sometimes the symptoms persist and take a long time to heal. This should be brought to the attention of a medical professional.
The finger sprain of first and second-degree usually heals faster with limited medical attention when compared with a third-degree sprain.
4. Treatment of A Sprained Finger
- There is an abbreviation to help give first aid to a sprained finger, which is RICE
- R– REST
- I– Ice application for 20 minutes in an hour. Ice compress is a good way to bring down swelling.
- C– Compression with the help of the bandage, helps to reduce swelling.
- E– Elevation. Keeping the sprained finger elevated helps minimize swelling.
- Splinting the finger to support it, like wearing a finger brace, can aid in the stability of the finger.
- Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, and naproxen are good agents that provide relief from pain and inflammation as well.
- In extreme cases of sprain, surgery may become a requirement to repair the damage done to the ligaments.
- It usually takes 4-6 weeks for the fracture to heal and the prognosis is good. Healing often takes place uneventfully.
5. Broken Finger
A broken finger refers to the fracture of the finger. Fractured finger bones can be caused by the following:
- Trying to break a fall
- Accident while performing daily tasks and the impact of the force is more than the bone can bear.
- While playing a sport like basketball, or cricket, catching the ball can cause a severe impact leading to a fractured finger.
- Diseases like osteoporosis make the bones weak and prone to fracture even with the slightest impact.
5.1 Symptoms of A Broken Finger
- Immediate extremely painful condition
- Immediate swelling
- Loss of function of the finger, like reduced finger’s mobility
- The finger may look disfigured or misaligned
- The fractured bone fragment may break the skin. Exposed bone should be treated as an emergency.
5.2 Diagnosis of A Broken Finger
- Physical examination is usually conclusive in diagnosing a broken finger
- Xray is the confirmatory investigative procedure performed to diagnose a fracture
6. Treatment of A Broken Finger
The treatment depends upon the location of the fracture and the kind of fracture.
6.1 First Aid
The treatment that can be given before a doctor gets to see you is an ice pack, splinting the finger such that it does not move at all, and painkillers to help ease the pain like ibuprofen.
6.2 Visit a Doctor
The right specialist to attend to a broken finger is an orthopedic surgeon. An X-ray will help determine the type and severity of the fracture, which will further help institute the proper treatment.
In cases of severe fracture of the bone of the finger like in the case of a compound fracture, surgery may be required to set the bones back in the correct position.
7. Knowing if the Finger Is Broken or Sprained
Differentiating between a broken and a sprained finger can be tricky, especially in the case of third-degree sprain, as they may present with similar symptoms. The sharp pain and swelling in case of a third-degree sprain and a simple fracture can be quite similar. Usually, the symptoms help to make the preliminary differentiation between the two. Further supportive investigative aids like X-rays, MRI, and CT scans can help institute a diagnosis.
As discussed earlier, a fracture is generally presented with extreme pain and the swelling is almost immediate. Sprains are usually a little less painful unless it is a third-degree sprain.
If the pain and swelling in minor sprains persist immediate medical attention must be sought to rule out any other issue like fracture.
8. Long Term Consequences
It is extremely important to understand the significance of timely management of both a sprained and broken finger.
The ill management of both can lead to loss of function of the finger in question.
The importance of prompt first aid can also not be stressed enough. Timely first aid enables a reduction in the symptoms which makes it easier to manage the damage and also makes the person more comfortable.
If left untreated for a long in case of a sprained finger, it can cause the healing process to be delayed and lead to reduced functionality of the finger, and permanent stiffness.
Broken fingers not tended to on time or not treated properly can lead to disfigurement of the finger which leads to a limited range of function of the finger. It may also become difficult to keep the finger straight.
9. Frequently Asked Questions
9.1 Does a Broken Finger Hurt More than A Sprained Finger?
Answer: Yes a broken finger is much more painful than a sprained finger unless the sprain is of a third degree.
9.2 Does a Broken Finger Heal Well?
Answer: If a broken finger gets proper attention at the right time, the healing process is speedy and the finger heals well and uneventfully.
9.3 Can a Sprained Finger Also Require Surgery?
Answer: If the sprain is exceptionally severe, which involves severing of the ligaments and potential dislocation of the joint, the treatment option in that case is surgery.