A finger fracture is another word for a broken bone in a finger. Each finger is made up of three bones, and it’s possible to break any of them with a heavy knock or having something heavy fall on them. You can often still move your finger even if one of the bones is broken, due to the way it’s organised. A bruise in the finger is a fairly good sign that you might have a break of some size in one of the finger bones

What causes a finger fracture?

Finger fractures can occur from a direct blow, such as a ball in sport or falling over, or jamming your finger between two hard objects. A finger will also break when it is forced too far in the wrong direction. Depending on the type and severity of the fracture, the treatment process can be very varied. Symptoms are pain and swelling at the fracture site, bruising, sometimes (but not always) loss of movement and pain to touch at the point of the fracture.

How do I know if I have fractured my finger?

Finger fractures vary quite widely in severity. Some fractures will be very obvious—misshapen, painful or short. Smaller fractures are easily overlooked at first, and become more obvious when the finger is still sore a few days after the injury happened. If your finger is still sore a few days or a week after the injury, it is advisable to get it checked out. Your physiotherapist will assess your finger and send you for an X-ray if a fracture is suspected.

How can physiotherapy help with a fractured finger?

A physiotherapist can ensure your finger fracture is correctly diagnosed and managed. In most cases, they will provide you with a splint to hold your fracture still and in the correct position until it heals. You may require gentle compressive taping to reduce the swelling as well. Some more severe, rotated or unstable fractures will require surgery to fix them.

Physiotherapy is required in the rehabilitation stage of a finger fracture. Your physiotherapist will monitor your progress and incorprate the following into your rehabilitation.

  • Timing decisions: you will need to start moving the finger at the right time to get your movement back without interrupting the bone healing
  • Exercise: you will be given a graduated exercise program to regain the movement and strength at the right time
  • Mobilisation and soft tissue techniques: hands on techniques, such as joint mobilisation and massage, will help you to regain the joint movement and reduce any discomfort in the finger, especially if it is a little stiff
  • Swelling management: you may require some form of compression in the event of ongoing swelling
  • Return to work and sport: the timing of your return to sport and work will depend upon your injury, your recovery and the demands placed on your finger at sport and work
  • Brace and tape: a brace or tape may assist you to return safely to sport or work earlier

It’s important to note that not all physiotherapists are specialised in the area of hand therapy. For the best treatment outcome, find a physio who specialises in this area.

How effective is physiotherapy for fractured fingers?

Most finger fractures are treated with splinting and exercises. If your finger is slightly rotated, crossing over the other fingers, or if the fractured finger is shorter than the same one on the other side, you may need an operation to put the bone back into the right position for a good result.

There are a few other reasons why you might need an operation to get your hand working again after a finger fracture, and it’s very important to get the right advice on this at the beginning.

With correct splinting and physiotherapy treatment, most people achieve full movement, strength and function. If surgery is required, physiotherapy is essential after the operation, to make sure the finger gets its movement back quickly and safely.

What can I do at home?

The type and stability of the fracture will indicate what is safe to do. Appropriate splinting or taping as guided by your physiotherapist will ensure that you achieve good healing. At an appropriate time, regular exercises and return to activity and sport are essential to improve movement and strength.

In the early stages, it is important to keep swelling to a minimum. Elevate your hand at regular intervals throughout the day. Anything that is not included in a splint is usually safe to move, such as the wrist, elbow and the shoulder. Keep these joints moving to avoid any stiffness.

How long until I feel better?

Pain should improve soon after the finger is appropriately splinted. Timing to start movement varies depending on the fracture type, but may be allowed immediately. Other fractures may need to be immobilised for six weeks and may take 2–3 months to achieve 80–90 per cent strength. The final discomforts and weaknesses may take longer to resolve, but rarely reduce function in the meantime.