“Around one-fourth of all athletic injuries involve the hand and the wrist,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Benjamin T. Busfield, who practices at Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation and is a Sutter Delta Medical Center-affiliated physician. “The fingers are particularly vulnerable to sprains, strains, fractures and dislocations. Early treatment is important to prevent the loss of range of motion, especially in teenagers and children.”
INJURIES AT OUR FINGERTIPS
Fingertip trauma is the most common hand injury in softball and baseball. The bones in our fingers are held together by tough tissue called ligaments, located in the joint capsules or knuckles of the hand.
“Jammed fingers usually occur when a fingertip ligament is overstretched and bent by the force of a fall, collision or flying ball,” said Busfield. “When you dislocate your finger, you completely tear the ligament that connects your finger bones.”
Dislocated and jammed fingers are sprains because they involve trauma to a ligament. Strains occur through damage to a tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Mallet or baseball finger is an extreme strain.
“This injury involves the extensor tendons located on the back of our hands that help us straighten our fingers,” notes Dr. Busfield. “When you rupture this tendon, it’s hard to straighten your fingertip, and there’s often a pronounced mallet-like bump at the tip.”
Since a fractured growth plate can prevent children’s fingers from growing normally, any finger injury involving the physis or growth plate – such as a fracture – is serious.
DON’T LET IT GET OUT OF HAND
Finger injuries should be treated by RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. If symptoms don’t decline in one or two days, see your doctor, who can take an X-ray to diagnose your injury.
“Dislocated or broken fingers should be realigned by your doctor and immobilized with a cast or splint. Baseball finger injuries are also treated by splinting,” said Busfield. “Severe injuries may require surgery in order to repair and realign the joint.”
In addition to medical treatment, physical therapy can promote healing by restoring motion and flexibility. Sutter Delta can help – it’s one of the few medical centers in the area providing expertise and specialization in hand therapy.
“To ensure proper healing, don’t delay treatment. Otherwise, your finger could be permanently damaged by a loss of range of motion, arthritis or a deformity,” said Busfield. “With so many resources, there’s no need to play through the pain.”
Julie Ruiz-Wibbelsmann is the writer/publications coordinator for Sutter Health East Bay Region.