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Finger Pain: Why You Might Have Finger Pain & When to See a Doctor

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Last updated March 10, 2021

Finger pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Understand your finger pain symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

9 most common causes

Finger pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Take finger pain quiz

Symptoms of finger pain

Opening jars, closing doors, tying shoes — these are just a few things we need our fingers to do. Fingers are able to perform incredible and intricate work. The movement of our fingers is the result of a perfectly coordinated dance between different components. The three bones in each finger are covered in muscle, which are connected by tendons. When we want to move a finger, the brain sends an electric impulse to the specific muscle that either relaxes it or contracts it. Upon this change, tendons are activated. The ending result is a moved finger.

Common accompanying symptoms of finger pain

If a finger is suddenly aching, here are a few other symptoms you may experience.

  • Pain when moving or putting pressure on the affected finger
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Weakness
  • Numbness or tingling

What causes finger pain?

When you're plagued with finger pain symptoms, the cause can sometimes be a mystery. Several common causes are detailed below and may be helpful in your quest for relief. However, not all of these causes can be self-diagnosed.

Traumatic causes

Traumatic causes of finger pain may include the following.

  • Bruises and strains: Slamming your finger in the car door or having it bent backwards playing basketball are just two examples of finger injury.
  • Fracture: Though incredibly strong, the bones in our fingers are easier to break and fracture than others. Stress fractures aren't always easy to spot in fingers either. Swelling, difficulty moving the affected hand and finger, and trouble holding onto objects are signs of potential fractures.

Infectious causes

Causes of finger pain related to infection may include the following.

  • Bacterial: Paronychia is the most common bacterial infection found on the hand. It's typically localized to the skin around the fingernail. However, a cut anywhere on the finger can become infected, leading to severe finger pain if left untreated.
  • Viral: One type of viral infection that affects fingers is herpetic whitlow. It's the most common viral infection of the hand and causes pain in the fingertip area.

Medical causes

Other medical conditions may result in finger pain, such as the following.

  • Joint issues: Arthritis can lead to finger pain. While some of the first joints to be affected are usually the knees, hips, or spine, those diagnosed also express weakness in their hands along with finger pain.
  • Nerve damage: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a prime example of how nerve damage can cause tingling and discomfort in the fingers.
  • Blood vessel trauma: Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when compression causes a lack of blood flow to the extremities. Finger tingling and numbness are a symptom.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing them to become thickened and painful. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, eyes, and circulatory system.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system turns against itself for unknown reasons.

Most at risk are women from ages 30-60. Other risk factors are family history, smoking, and obesity.

Early symptom include warm, swollen, stiff, painful joints, especially the fingers and toes; fatigue; and fever. Usually, the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.

If untreated, irreversible joint damage and deformity can occur, with other complications. Early diagnosis can allow preventive treatment to begin as soon as possible.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests; and x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the disease can be managed to improve quality of life. Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; steroids; anti-rheumatic drugs; physical therapy; and sometimes surgery to repair the joints.

Finger pain quiz

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Raynaud phenomenon

Raynaud phenomenon, also called Secondary Raynaud syndrome, is a condition that causes small arteries in the skin to abnormally constrict on exposure to cold water or air. This limits blood flow to the hands, fingers, feet, toes, nose, and ears.

Secondary Raynaud syndrome is rare and is caused by another underlying medical condition, often a connective tissue disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or lupus.

Women are more likely than men to be affected, especially if living in cold climates. Family history and smoking are also risk factors.

Symptoms include the hands and feet becoming numb and cold. The skin color changes from pale to bluish, and then to red as the skin warms again.

If not treated, patients may get ulcerated sores or deformities of the fingers and toes, or even gangrene, due to the lack of circulation.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and blood tests.

Treatment includes medications to help increase circulation; treatment of any underlying conditions; and lifestyle changes to gain better protection for the extremities in cold conditions.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: distal numbness, cold toe, cold fingers, spontaneous toe pain, spontaneous finger pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a complication of psoriasis, which causes the skin to become thickened, red, and scaly. Arthritis may appear before or after the psoriasis appears.

Both conditions are autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself, and are thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Most susceptible are people from 30 to 50 years of age with a family history of the disease and who already have psoriasis.

Symptoms include the joints on one or both sides of the body becoming painful, swollen, and hot; swelling and deformity of the fingers and toes; pitted, flaking fingernails; foot pain in the heels and soles; and joint pain in the low back pain.

It is important to seek treatment, as psoriatic arthritis can permanently damage the joints, eyes, and heart.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-rays, and MRI. Blood tests and joint fluid tests can confirm psoriatic arthritis.

Treatment includes over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; anti-rheumatic medication; immunosuppressants; and steroid injections for the joints. Surgery to replace damaged joints may also be tried.

Non-serious finger injury

Finger injuries are very common & rarely need medical treatment.

You can treat this at home with ice and rest. An X-ray would be necessary to rule out a fracture if you had swelling and difficulty moving the finger.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury, swollen finger, severe finger pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-serious finger injury: recent finger injury

Symptoms that never occur with non-serious finger injury: bent or crooked finger

Urgency: Self-treatment

Nail infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is an infection of the skin of the fingers or toes, at the place where the skin folds down to meet the nail.

Acute, or sudden onset, paronychia is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The organism can gain entry if the nail is cracked, broken, bitten, or trimmed too closely.

Chronic, or ongoing, paronychia is caused by a fungus. Anyone whose work requires their hands to be wet much of the time is susceptible.

People with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more susceptible to nail infections.

Symptoms include sore, reddened, swollen skin around the nail, sometimes with pus collecting under the skin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes skin culture to identify the organism involved.

Treatment for acute paronychia involves having a medical provider clean the wounded nail and drain any infection, and sometimes provide a course of antibiotics.

Treatment for the chronic form involves keeping the skin dry and using an antifungal medication on the affected nail.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: spontaneous finger pain, fingernail pain, fingernail swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Mallet finger

Mallet finger is an injury to the furthest knuckle tendon of the finger, which makes it impossible to straighten the tip of the finger.

You should see your primary care doctor or visit an urgent care clinic within 24 hours. Diagnosis involves x-rays to determine severity of injury. Treatment is splinting. If the bone is poking through the skin, go to the emergency room immediately.

Jammed finger

Jammed fingers are common in sports but may occur during daily activity.

You should visit a physician or urgent care center in the next day. Generally, surgery is not required and splinting is sufficient.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury, swollen finger, finger joint stiffness, finger bruise

Symptoms that always occur with jammed finger: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Dislocated finger

Dislocations of the finger at the base of the finger are relatively rare. However, when they do happen, they can damage the blood supply to the finger and its nerves.

You should go immediately to an urgent care or emergency room, where a physician can "reduce" - put the finger back into place - safely. Simple dislocations typically require just buddy tape to a nearby finger. Complicated fractures (need an x-ray) would need immobilization with a splint. Following reduction, the doctor should ensure that blood is flowing to the tips of the finger properly. If he/she cannot put it back into place, they should consult a hand surgeon.

Boxer's fracture

Boxer's fracture is a term for a fracture of one of fingers and generally occurs after a closed fist makes contact with a hard object.

Apply ice to relieve pain and swelling. If there is an open wound, gently clean with soap and water. Proceed to your nearest urgent care clinic.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: finger pain, swollen finger, finger bruise, punched a hard object

Symptoms that always occur with boxer's fracture: finger pain, swollen finger, punched a hard object

Urgency: In-person visit

Finger that is bent out of shape

You should have your finger x-rayed. It's not a good idea to try and fix the finger by yourself.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: bent or crooked finger

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Finger pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Take finger pain quiz

Finger pain treatments and relief

Not all cases of finger pain require a trip to the doctor; however, if your finger pain worsens or persists, you should schedule an appointment.

At-home treatments

If you don't feel a trip to the doctor is necessary to treat your finger pain symptoms, there are several remedies you can try at home.

  • R.I.C.E.: If there is no serious cause behind your finger pain, use R.I.C.E. — an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Rest the finger as much as possible and ice it several times a day. Compress it when possible and elevate it during periods of rest.
  • Buddy tape: Tape your injured finger to a healthy finger next to it. The tape should be stiff and not allow your fingers to move. This allows you to use part of your body as a natural splint and prevent your injured finger from moving while it heals. This is ideal for small fractures and sprains.
  • Pain medication: To combat swelling and discomfort, over-the-counter pain relievers can be used as directed. NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin.
  • Epsom salt: For general pain, soaking your finger in a bowl with Epsom salt can soothe muscles and relax stiff joints.

When to see a doctor

When you can't complete simple tasks without grimacing in pain, find the cause of your discomfort and see a physician. Your care team may complete the following.

  • Medical questionnaire: This document can help determine specific symptoms and a timeline.
  • Physical examination: This exam is to notate swelling, redness, and limited movement.
  • Lab tests: Testing can point out an infection.
  • Imaging tests: These tests can show broken bones or reveal trauma.

When it is an emergency

If you're experiencing the following, seek medical attention sooner than later.

  • Bleeding from an injury that won't stop
  • Visible trauma to the finger: Such as a protruding bone
  • Signs of infection: Including redness, warmth, and pus
  • Inability to move finger at all
  • Severe pain that shows little to no improvement over the course of several days

FAQs about finger pain

Why do my fingertips hurt?

Painful fingertips can be a minor problem or a dangerous sign of a serious disease. To discover why your fingertips are hurting, the first step is to review any activities that could lead to tenderness or pain along the fingertips. This includes musical instruments and texting. Other common causes of fingertip pain include disorders like Raynaud's Syndrome in which some of the fingers to not get adequate blood flow and worsen with exposure to cold.

Why are my fingers stinging?

Fingertips commonly sting when they are exposed to caustic agents like bleach or severe cold for long periods of time. It may also be a symptom of disorders that predispose one to pain in the cold like Raynaud's Syndrome or disease of clogged arteries like peripheral artery disease (PAD). If you have continual finger stinging, you should seek medical evaluation.

How do I know if my finger is broken?

A broken finger can best be identified by an X-ray or by a detailed clinical exam. Pain with movement can indicate either a sprain or a fracture, point tenderness or tenderness that is severe in only one spot can indicate a fracture. Treatment usually involves taping or bandaging the finger to the adjacent finger.

Can arthritis cause finger pain?

Yes, arthritis can cause finger pain. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common types (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) both cause finger pain. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) commonly causes morning stiffness that tends to abate over an hour to half an hour. Osteoarthritis, however, commonly becomes worse during the day.

Questions your doctor may ask about finger pain

  • Where on your finger is the pain worst?
  • Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?
  • Did you injure your finger?
  • Did you get a manicure and/or pedicure in the past few days?
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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

  1. Finger Pain. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Jan. 7, 2019. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Finger Fractures. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Reviewed Dec. 2013. OrthoInfo Link
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