Finger Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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A woman who holding her finger because she has finger pain

1Overview

The fingers play a major role in the body. Without the fingers, you are not able to hold, write, draw and do many other things. When you feel pain in your fingers, this may lead to debilitating effects, especially for those who use them in work, school and daily activities.

Finger pain can be caused by a wide range of factors, including an injury or disease that can affect any of the structures in the finger. These structures include tendons, bones, joints, muscles, connective tissues and even blood vessels.

The most painful type of fingers pain is caused by joint pain and inflammation, the common characteristics of arthritis. This can be accompanied by the warmth in the area, redness, and swelling. The two types of arthritis that can affect the fingers are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The other causes include trauma, dislocations, fractures and underlying diseases such as diabetes and nerve problems.

Finger pain is characterized by a throbbing, achy and cramp-like pain that is felt in any of the fingers. Fortunately, in most cases, finger pain is not that serious and can go away on its own. However, if the pain persists, it can be caused by a serious medical condition. Hence, seeing the doctor regularly for consultations is very important. Early detection is vital for the success of treatment.

2Symptoms

Many signs and symptoms may indicate finger pain, including:

  • Tenderness of the fingers
  • Swelling
  • Finger stiffness
  • Joint pain in the fingers
  • Redness
  • Throbbing, achy and cramp-like pain in the fingers
  • A popping sensation when moving the fingers
  • Problems with using the fingers such as writing, holding objects and typing
  • Unable to move fingers because of pain which is worse in the morning or when it’s cold

3Causes

There are many known causes of finger pain, including:

Hand injury – The most common cause of finger pain is a hand injury. When the fingers get injured, like having an open cut, a fracture, damage of the tissue and muscles, and being bruised, pain is inevitable. Pain is worse after the injury and when the affected finger becomes inflamed.

A hand injury can be caused by broken fingers, too. Usually, the injury is a result of jamming the finger while playing contact sports or by the improper use of heavy equipment. Also, it can be caused by tripping and landing on the hands or fingers.

Another cause of hand injury has an open cut. When the tissues get damaged, the nerves are affected too. This will cause some degree of pain. Lastly, broken fingernails are also painful, especially when it’s due to an ingrown nail.

Medical conditions – Some medical conditions that often affect the muscles, bones, and nerves of the fingers will cause finger pain. One of the most common causes is arthritis, which is described as the joint pain and swelling as a result of cartilage breakdown. The cartilage is a tissue that acts as a cushion to the joints and bones. When there is cartilage breakdown, the bones will rub against each other, increasing friction. This may lead to pain, stiffness, and inflammation. In the hands, the most common cause of finger pain is osteoarthritis, which can affect the base of the thumb, the nail bed joints and the middle part of the fingers.

The other causes of finger pain include:

4Risk Factors

Many factors can increase the risk of developing finger pain, including:

Hand trauma – Having a fractured bone or a dislocated joint may cause damage that leads to osteoarthritis and pain in the fingers.

Repeated Gripping – Some work or occupations that involve repetitive hand use or too much gripping may increase the risk of finger pain.

Certain health issues – People who have medical conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis have a heightened risk of developing finger pain.

5Complications

Finger pain may have many complications. Of course, one of the most obvious ones is the inability to perform daily tasks such as writing, gripping, typing and handling machinery or equipment.

In other causes of finger pain, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, one complication is nerve damage. If the carpal tunnel impedes the nerve running down the arm to the hand for prolonged periods, it may cause damage to the nerve. Hence, long-term suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome can be seen. In some cases, surgery could be the last resort.

Finger pain due to arthritis may also take a toll on one’s ability to perform daily tasks. In the long run, if this problem would not be addressed, it may lead to problems with work and in school.

6Diagnosis

There are many ways to detect and diagnose finger pain, as well as identify the underlying cause.

How to identify the types of finger pain:

The first type of diagnostic examination is a complete medical history taking and physical assessment. The doctor will determine the cause of the finger pain. Now, since there are many types of finger pain, the doctor needs to identify these through examining the finger and determining the signs and symptoms.

Finger pain may feel achy, dull, sharp or cramp-like. Subsequently, it may also gradually progress, start abruptly or become intermittent.

Broken finger or fracture – The pain is severe and there is swelling. Sometimes, there will be discoloration (purple or blue). In severe cases, the bone of the finger may become visible through the skin since it becomes physically separated.

Dislocation of the finger joint – Dislocation usually happens when the bones of the finger become dislocated from the joints. The finger pain is described as sharp shooting or throbbing pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome – Carpal tunnel syndrome and other medical conditions affecting the muscles and nerves in the arms and hands may cause certain pain characteristics such as a throbbing pain in the fingers and even the hands, hard time writing or typing, tremors in the hands, hand weakness, extreme pain in the morning or when it’s cold, and pain when moving the affected fingers or the wrist.

Open cuts or wounds – When there is a cut on the finger, it may cause pain at the site of the injury. The severity of pain depends on the depth of the cut. In some cases, the pain may also spread to the surrounding areas of the fingers and hands.

Boils and nodules – People who have boils and nodules may also experience having a hardened area of the skin, a fluid-filled lump, a movable lump under the skin and a lump that is tender when touched.

Common tests to diagnose finger pain:

The common diagnostic tests used to diagnose finger pain include imaging tests such as X-ray and CT scan. An X-ray can show broken bones, dislocations, fractures and abnormal growths in the finger.

However, if the problem does not involve the bones but affects the nerves and muscles, tendons and cartilages, other imaging tests are recommended such as a CT scan. Moreover, a nerve study may also be recommended. In some cases, blood tests may also be required, particularly if the doctor suspects rheumatoid arthritis, wherein there is an elevated inflammation antibody in the body.

7Treatment

The treatment of finger pain is targeted to the underlying cause of pain. If the finger pain is caused by wounds, burns or cuts, the usual treatment involves keeping the area clean and free from contaminants to prevent infection. These wounds usually heal on their own without any treatment. For severe pain, medications may be needed.

Pain medications

The doctor may prescribe pain medications for pain that’s caused by an underlying factor such as tissue, muscle and nerve damage.

The most commonly used pain relievers used to reduce pain are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen sodium and ibuprofen.

Surgery and other procedures

There are times that even with medications, the pain is still there. In these cases, other procedures are taken into consideration, such as:

Surgery – The surgeon may conduct certain surgical procedures to relieve pain. For instance, he can create a small incision at the base of the affected finger and cut the constricted area of tendon sheath, releasing the pressure and relieving pain.

Percutaneous release – This procedure needs an anesthesia. The doctor will numb the palm and insert a needed into the tissue of the affected tendon in the finger. When the needle and the finger are moved, it helps release the constriction that is causing the blockage of the flawless movement of the tendon.

Steroid injection – Steroids can be injected into the affected tendon sheath to reduce the pain and inflammation. Also, this will help the tendon to move freely again. Because of the ease of its use, this is the most common treatment and it’s effective for about one year or more for most people.

Home remedies – in some cases, home remedies and conservative treatments can be used to relieve foot pain.

These include resting the fingers by avoiding activities that require repetitive grasping, gripping and use of hand-held machinery, applying splints to keep the finger in an extended position to rest the tendon and certain hand exercises.

8Prevention

The prevention of finger pain depends on its underlying cause. For finger pain caused by arthritis, the best way to prevent its occurrence is to maintain a healthy weight.

Moreover, there are other preventive measures:

  • Quit smoking or don’t start smoking
  • Take precautions if the job involves a high risk of injury when playing contact sports or lifting heavy objects.
  • Practice good posture of the job entails a lot of typing. Get a special cushion or pad.