Finger dislocation is a common hand injury that can occur at the three joints of the finger (phalange): proximal interphalangeal (PIP), distal interphalange (DIP) or metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints. The most common joint to be dislocated is the PIP joint of the middle finger.
The finger is most at risk of dislocation when exposed to high impact activities and forced overstreching. These types of forces are common in high impact and full contact sports like football, basketball and rugby. However, repetitive strain on the joints during daily activities can progressively weaken the support structures of the joint increasing the risk of dislocation.
A finger dislocation usually involves excessive forces that exceed the tensile strength of the connective tissue. This causes the tissue, most often the ligament, to partially or completely tear allowing the bony surfaces to move away from each other and the small bone/s can displace or “pop” out of their normal position. The direction of the dislocation will depend on the direction of the forces that caused the injury.
This sliding of bones away from each other can cause excruciating pain due to damage and impingement of the connective tissue, tendons, nerves and blood vessels surrounding the joint. Depending on the severity of the dislocation the displaced bone can damage the surrounding tissue also.
Types of Dislocations
Distal interphalangeal (DIP) – Occurs at the joints closest to the fingertip
Proximal interphalangeal (PIP) – The most common sports injury, a “jammed finger”, that occurs to the joints in the middle of the finger
Metacarpophalangeal (MCP) – This is the most rare, and occurs at the base of the finger
Dislocated Finger Symptoms
Sudden, excruciating pain during a specific incident or activity
Visible bump or finger deformity
An audible pop or tearing
Pain at the site of deformity or throughout the finger
Swelling and bruising
Inability to bend or move the finger
If a nerve is impinged or injured may also have:
Referred pain into the other fingers or arm
Change in skin colour
Dislocated Finger Treatment
The finger can be relocated by a health professional, or it may spontaneously relocate, however pain and stiffness can continue. Pain may continue to be exacerbated with activities using the hand so a period of rest and relative immobilisation is required.
Physiotherapy Treatment Following a Dislocated Finger
Because several structures can be affected it is important to get a proper assessment and diagnosis from a Physiotherapist. Early treatment may also include splinting on the finger to allow for immobilisation, followed by a graded introduction of range of motion and strengthening exercises, while making sure secondary impacts on the the rest of the upper limb is limited, such as loss of strength, muscle length and other compensatory effects.
Your Physio can make sure you maintain strength and conditioning throughout by providing alternative exercise advise during the recovery stage, and assist with a smooth transition to full return to sport and activity.
Written by: Olivia Strelein
BSc. Physiotherapy (Honours)
BSc. Exercise and Sport Science