A child may develop pain in a finger for many different reasons. Talking children will be able to describe the specific features and location of the pain. Infants and toddlers may only be fussy, and identifying the source of pain may take some detective work. Joint damage, muscle irritation, bone disease and skin destruction are common causes of finger pain.
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Direct injury to the finger is the most common cause of finger pain in children. Typically, there will be signs of bruising, a cut or a scrape that will help you to detect an injury. Other injuries can be more subtle. If a child complains of pain and you cannot see any injury, be sure to look closely. Use a magnifying glass to look for splinters or foreign objects like glass. Younger children can even have a piece of hair wrapped around a digit, cutting off the blood supply, known as a hair tourniquet.
Children usually complain of an achy feeling when the muscle is the source of pain. Muscle pain can be the result of injury, which causes muscle bruising, or inflammation of the muscles, seen with viral illness such as the flu. The ligaments that attach muscle to bones may also tear or be strained, causing sharp pain.
The joints are cartilage-lined spaces where bones meet. Each finger has three joints; thumbs have only two. Irritation of the end of the bone, the cartilage or the fluid filling the space between the bones causes both pain and decreased range of motion. Damaged joints may look swollen or red when compared to healthy ones. Failure to promptly address joint pain can lead to long-term loss of function.
The skin is one of the most sensitive organs to pain, having specialized receptors to detect pain from pressure, temperature or sharp sensations. Burns, cuts, scrapes and compression will trigger pain receptors to signal the brain, and the child experiences pain. Most of the time the source of skin pain will be clearly visible as bleeding, bruising or redness. Skin injury should be cleaned thoroughly, however, to look for additional injury to underlying muscle and bone.
Nerve damage can also lead to finger pain. In 2009, the "Journal of Emergency Medicine" published the case of a teenage girl who experienced median nerve irritation, causing finger numbness, tingling and burning after she played video games excessively. Any repetitive movement of the wrist or hand can lead to nerve irritation and finger pain. Nerve injury can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies or genetic diseases, although these nerve problems usually cause symptoms in the feet and legs as well.