A dislocated finger is an injury where the bones in the fingers are knocked out of their normal and original alignment. It usually involves damage or stretching of the ligaments in the finger. Ligaments are strong bands of fiber that hold the bones in place. When the ligaments are damaged, the bone can become dislocated. It is a very common injury among athletes, especially those who have to push, pull, grab, or reach while playing a sport. Symptoms associated with a dislocated finger include bruising and swelling in the injured area, severe pain, and tingling or numbness. It may be impossible to straighten or bend the dislocated finger, and it may appear awkwardly bent out of shape or crooked.
A dislocated finger is usually caused by a finger being overextended, by it being forcefully bent or twisted, or by it jamming into an object. It typically occurs because the finger bones are moved out of their normal position because of an impact from a piece of equipment, ball, or other person. There are three joints in each finger – the middle joint is the one that is most frequently injured in athletes. Basketball players, volleyball players, and football players tend to suffer from dislocated fingers the most. A basketball player taking a pass is a common cause, as is a football player deflecting a quarterback’s pass or catching a ball, or a volleyball player trying to block or deflect a spike. Athletes who play sports where they have to constantly reach for an object or ball are more susceptible to dislocated fingers than other athletes.
It is important to get medical attention as soon as the injury occurs. If you suffer the injury during a sporting event, a trainer should be able to take care of you. Do not try to pop the finger back into place yourself because you may cause more severe damage. If a trainer is not available, you need to go to the emergency room. You can place an ice pack on the finger to limit swelling and immobilize the finger with a makeshift splint, but avoid doing anything else. Once the doctor or trainer has confirmed the dislocation, make sure you listen to them carefully and follow their instructions. After your trainer or doctor has treated the dislocation and the swelling has gone down, heat can be administered to make the finger feel better. You can take over-the-counter pain medications to help manage the pain, although your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication. Your finger will probably be taped or place in a splint for a short period of time. Severe dislocations that require surgery may need a cast.
For athletes who dislocate a finger, it is possible to return to play very quickly. You should only return to competition after your doctor has relocated the dislocated finger and confirms there is no break or other injury. The swelling and pain should also be diminished enough that you can play without discomfort, and the joint needs to be stable. You will probably be required to wear a protective splint or tape for several weeks. If surgery is needed, however, it may take 4-6 weeks before you can return to your sport. This is because you will probably require a cast. To help prevent a dislocated finger, make sure you wear proper equipment and padding while playing a sport. Although it is not always preventable, especially in sports like volleyball and basketball, making sure the injury is treated properly and quickly is the best way to prevent further damage. Avoid returning to play too quickly to avoid re-injuring the finger. The NYU Langone Medical Center has more information on finger dislocations.