It's easy to injure the ligaments in your finger, particularly if you play sports. Ligaments are made of strong fibers that connect your finger bones with one another and provide stability as your fingers bend and straighten. Ligament sprains occur when these joints are overstretched. See your doctor if you injure your finger, even if it appears to be minor. Ligaments can tear and may be accompanied by a bone fracture. Treatment for these injuries depends on the extent of damage.
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Finger sprains are graded according to the severity of the ligament injury. Grade 1 and 2 sprains involve ligament fiber damage though part of the ligament remains intact. The ligament is torn completely with a grade 3 sprain. Symptoms of ligament sprains are similar, regardless of the extent of the injury. Pain occurs and may worsen during the first 24 hours after injury. The finger typically swells, making it difficult to move. Bruising may also develop. With a ligament tear, you may hear a popping sound at the time of the injury.
After you have been seen by a doctor and diagnosed with a minor finger sprain, you can do several things to help your finger heal. Immediately stop any activities that increase your pain. Splint your finger by taping it to the finger next to it -- which is called "buddy wrapping" -- or use a finger splint you find at a drugstore. Apply ice to your finger for 15 to 20 minutes several times each day for the first 3 days after injury. Wrap your finger with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling. Start at the tip of your finger, overlapping half the width of the bandage until you reach the base of your finger. Watch for skin color changes. If the tip of your finger is blue or gray, or it tingles, the bandage is too tight. When cleared by your doctor, gently start bending your finger, working toward a full fist. Early motion is important, as finger stiffness after ligament injury may become permanent if your finger is immobile for too long.
Partial Ligament Tear
Finger sprains that result in partial tearing of ligament fibers require medical intervention. Partially torn ligaments may heal on their own with proper treatment. These injuries are immobilized longer than a mild sprain, sometimes up to 12 weeks, increasing your risk of a permanently stiff finger. Early protected motion -- movement that will not further injure the ligament -- is performed under the guidance of a physical or occupational therapist. After the first 3 days of healing, your therapist or doctor may instruct you to apply heat to your finger for 15 to 20 minutes several times each day to increase blood flow and reduce stiffness and pain.
Complete Ligament Tear
An untreated grade 3 sprain leaves your finger unstable, making it difficult to perform daily tasks. This can also lead to chronic pain and early arthritis. Surgery is often required to repair the torn ligament, particularly if ligament fibers are in the joint space. Ligaments repaired within 3 weeks after injury can usually be sewn back together. However, if more time has passed, the ligament may need to be rebuilt using part of a finger tendon. Treatment after surgery includes extensive rehabilitation. Initially the finger is immobilized, with early movement performed under a therapist's supervision. Exercises are progressed according to your doctor's instructions, with the goal of restoring as much function as possible.