Finger fractures are diagnosed with x-rays.
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Your fingers are the tools through which you accomplish nearly all daily tasks. This front-line exposure puts your finger at high risk for injury. Bone fractures typically occur from trauma, such as accidents or sports injuries. Many times, these injuries are not taken seriously, causing delayed diagnosis. Complications can occur when finger fractures are not diagnosed and treated right away.
Each finger consists of 3 bones, called phalanges. Fractures in these bones often occur from direct force on the tip or side of a finger. Finger fractures can be small but cause significant problems with hand function. Symptoms of a finger fracture include sharp pain with movement, aching while they're resting, swelling and stiffness. Soft tissue injuries can have similar symptoms. Traumatic finger injuries should always be checked by a doctor to prevent complications from delayed treatment.
Finger fractures that are not properly treated often heal with the bone fragments out of proper alignment, a condition called malunion. This can lead to permanent finger deformity and significant difficulty with using your hand. Malunion often causes bone rotation or angling. This can cause misalignment of the finger joints and reduce your ability to bend them. Finger shortening can also occur if bone length is lost with the fracture.
Malunion is treated based on the severity of the finger deformity and hand function. Elective surgery is sometimes performed for cosmetic reasons. If movement is severely limited or the deformity interferes with the function of other fingers, surgical repair is typically necessary. Part of the bone may be removed to improve joint position. A removable wire is often used to hold the bones in place for several weeks until the repair is stable.
Failed bone healing, or nonunion, can occur with finger fractures that are not treated promptly. This can occur if soft tissue gets stuck between the bones when the fracture occurs, or if the bone fragments are too far apart to grow back together. Poor blood supply to the healing bone can also cause nonunion. This condition requires surgery to correct the deformity and join the pieces of bone back together. A temporary wire is sometimes needed to hold the finger in proper position until the bone heals.
Post-traumatic arthritis is caused by breakdown of the cartilage, the padding between bones, in a joint after an injury. This condition can develop after a finger fracture, particularly if treatment is delayed and malunion or nonunion have occurred. Post-traumatic arthritis can affect the position of bones in a finger joint, limiting how well you can move and use your fingers. Pain is a significant factor with this condition, particularly as the cartilage wears away and bones begin to rub against each other.
Conservative treatment for post-traumatic arthritis includes heat, rest and medications to decrease inflammation, pain and swelling. Cortisone injections are often given to direct medication into the joint space. Occupational and physical therapy are used for pain relief. Exercise may improve finger motion and hand function. Splints are sometimes recommended to support painful joints during daily activities. Severe post-traumatic arthritis may require joint replacement, where the worn areas of the bone are removed and replaced with a silicone implant.