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Five tips to recover from a dislocated thumb or finger

Recovering from a dislocated thumb or finger | Benenden Hospital

If you’ve dislocated your thumb or finger, you’ll most likely suffer from swelling, immobilisation, pain and bruising around your joint. Your finger may also look crooked or misshapen (deformed). We’ve worked with our experienced Physiotherapists to put together a guide to recovering from a dislocated finger or thumb so you can get back to your daily activities as quickly and safely as possible. Discover our five tips for rehabilitation.

1. Don’t pop your finger back

Immediately after a dislocation, avoid manipulation by popping your finger back into the joint yourself. If you do, you could damage your blood vessels, tendons, nerves and ligaments further.

It is recommended that straight after you dislocate your finger, you should apply ice wrapped in a towel or an ice pack to your injured finger but you shouldn’t move it. You should then go to A&E or see your GP as soon as possible to reduce your need for surgery and to help with pain relief.

2. Reduction

While in A&E or during your GP appointment, a health professional will treat your dislocated finger or thumb by performing a procedure known as reduction. Your affected finger or thumb will receive a local anaesthetic to numb it before the reduction takes place. The procedure will then be carried out by carefully manipulating the bone back into the joint.

After your procedure, an x-ray may be requested to check the alignment of the bone inside the joint.

3. Splinting

Your health professional will most likely recommend you wear a splint for several weeks. A splint is a rigid strip of metal that supports your dislocated bone.

The aim of a splint is to stop you from moving your finger and prevents you from dislocating or injuring your joint again. However, wearing a splint for too long could cause permanent stiffness or reduce your finger mobility so it’s important that you frequently assess how your finger/thumb feels.

4. Buddy taping techniques

You may also be recommended buddy taping, also known as buddy strapping. This means taping your splinted dislocated finger to your neighbouring finger. “Buddy strapping provides support and confidence if the patient is required to continue competing or working whilst recovering from a recent dislocation. It also allows for greater range of motion”, says Louis Wicking, Senior Physiotherapist at Benenden Hospital.

Medical cloth tape is often used for buddy taping because it is waterproof and sturdy. A healthcare professional will demonstrate effective taping techniques for you to continue with at home:

1. Apply the medical tape between the first and second joints of your dislocated finger or thumb and the adjacent finger

2. Apply another piece of tape between the second and third joints – it is important not to cover the joints themselves with the tape

3. If your ring finger or little finger have been dislocated, taping these together is recommended, as it allows you to grip things better

4. Leaving this buddy taping on for too long can cause irritation, pressure sores and infection. Please call your GP if you believe you may have an infection

5. Do physiotherapy exercises

Once your finger/thumb has recovered enough to remove the splint, you may be recommended to have physiotherapy to increase your range of motion. At your private Physiotherapy appointment, a member of our team will demonstrate strengthening exercises to help support the healing of your dislocated finger or thumb.

“If swelling is controlled, finger Passive Range of Motion (PROM) and Active Assisted Range of Motion (AAROM) can be performed to aid healing”, says Louis. Heat and massage therapies may also be offered to reduce stiffness and increase the mobility in your joint. Occupational therapy may also be needed so you can work safely while your injury heals.

What is the recovery time like?

Louis offers this advice: “The predicted recovery time after a finger or thumb dislocation is three to six months (Healing time for this injury is about six weeks, however, it can take several months for symptoms to settle and to regain function). This would mean you’d be relieved of any finger pain and can return to your normal activities, including sports, after this time. With the correct buddy strapping, splint and physiotherapy exercises, the range of motion in your finger/thumb joints should be back to normal.

“However, in some cases, if your dislocation has been accompanied by a serious break or you did not seek medical assistance, the pain and stiffness could be a struggle in the long term.”

Pain management at home

There are several ways you can reduce your recovery time, focus on pain and injury management and prevent re-injury risk of your dislocated thumb/finger:

  • Stay consistent with the exercises recommended by your Physiotherapist
  • Keep your splint and brace clean, dry and redo your taping often
  • Rest your finger and avoid moving it while it heals
  • Apply cold compresses to reduce pain and inflammation
  • Take over-the-counter medications, available from our on-site Pharmacy to further help to reduce pain and inflammation

Access our private GP or Physiotherapy services

If you suspect a dislocated thumb or finger, use our online booking tool to secure a private GP or Physiotherapy appointment.

Published on 31 March 2023