With all the sliding, catching and fielding in baseball and softball, it's easy to jam or sprain a finger. These injuries may seem minor, but they can sideline athletes of all ages for months if left untreated -- with a lasting impact on function.
Sprains vs. strains
Our hands have more than 30 bones and major joints, so it's no wonder they are vulnerable to sprains and strains. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which is the tough tissue that connects bones to other bones. Finger strains occur by injuring a tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to bone.
What's a jammed finger?
During baseball and softball, fingertip injuries are some of the most common. The bones in our fingers are connected by ligaments in our joint capsules, which form our knuckles. When a fingertip is bent by the force of a fall, collision or flying ball, one of the following injuries can occur:
Jammed fingers occur when you overstretch the ligaments in the joint capsules, tearing and stretching the joint lining. The most severe sprain is a dislocation. When you dislocate your finger, you completely tear the ligament that connects your finger bones, forcing your finger out
Mallet or baseball finger happens when you rupture the extensor tendon of the fingertip. Unlike finger ligaments, the extensor tendons connect muscles to bones and are located on the back of the hand, opposite the palm. If you rupture this tendon, you may have trouble straightening your fingertip.
Broken fingers can occur anywhere there's trauma to the finger bone. Because children are still growing, it's particularly important that they be seen by a doctor to make sure that their injury does not involve a fracture of the physis or growth plate, which can affect the growth of their finger.
Finger injuries have common symptoms:
See your doctor for finger pain lasting longer than a day or two. Because the symptoms are similar, an X-ray is often required to diagnose the extent of a finger injury.
Early treatment, faster recovery
The recommended treatment is RICE: Rest, ice, compression and elevation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and range-of-motion exercises can help restore flexibility.
While RICE will help minor injuries, more serious trauma -- such as a dislocation or fracture -- should be treated immediately by a doctor who can properly align a damaged finger with a splint or through surgery to ensure healing and mobility. Physical therapy is often recommended to restore the full range of motion and flexibility. Sutter Delta is one of the few medical centers in the area with expertise and specialization in hand therapy.
Delaying treatment can allow scar tissue to form, leading to deformities and loss-of-motion problems. If left untreated, these problems can become chronic. For example, if mallet finger is left untreated, the "mallet" bump from the ruptured tendon will remain, requiring surgery to restore the ability to straighten the finger.
Prompt treatment of your injury will get you back on the playing field with full range of motion and no long-term side effects.
Dr. Benjamin T. Busfield practices orthopedic medicine at Sutter East Bay Foundation and is a Sutter Delta Medical Center-affiliated physician.