Just as most of us take for granted the act of breathing air, most of us take for granted our two hands and ten fingers. These small appendages play a huge role in carrying out the many tasks of daily living –brushing our teeth, tying our shoes, scratching our itches, dialing our cell phones, etc., etc., etc. It is only when we have difficulty breathing that we consciously think about it. And, it is only when one or more of our fingers are injured that we realize what a loss it is to have limited use of our fingers.
Finger injuries range from the relatively minor, such as swelling and bruising after being jammed or slammed, to more serious injuries such as breaks or fractures in a finger bone or even partial amputations. Seeking out competent, expert physical therapy is key to resuming full function in your injured finger or fingers. If you have a finger injury (or suffer one in the future), here are some of the ways we’ll be able to help you recover more quickly.
One of the most debilitating aspects of a finger injury is the inability to straighten the affected finger. Often, a finger injury leads to muscle atrophy due to lack of use. Range-of-motion exercises help to strengthen the finger so you’ll be able to straighten it. Our physical therapists will begin by teaching and demonstrating two exercises to achieve this. The first calls for using your healthy hand to gently straighten and bend your affected finger. The second calls for placing your injured hand palm down on a table and extending (lifting) each finger one at a time.
Grip Strengthening Exercises
Before you’re able to fully use your injured hand again, you’ll need to regain your grip strength. We will teach you an exercise to do this. First, make a fist with your affected hand and hold it for several seconds. As you master that, you can move on to gripping and squeezing a soft ball or tennis ball. To make the tennis ball squeezable, have someone carefully cut into the side of the ball to create a space for air to enter and exit.
Object Pick-Up Practice
As you gain range of motion and strength in your injured hand, you will be ready to begin practicing and perfecting your fine motor skills – the skills you rely on for detailed finger activities such as writing, typing, tying, knitting, etc. This is less of an “exercise” and more of a practice session. Simply pick up small items like coins, jacks, or snacks by gripping them with your thumb and the injured finger. You may feel frustrated at first that such a seemingly simple task is giving you trouble. But with practice, you’ll regain your abilities.
One of the most devastating finger injuries (and one of the most difficult to recover from) is a partial finger amputation. This is a surprisingly common injury that can be caused by getting your fingers entwined in a rope that is suddenly pulled, mistakenly slicing a finger while chopping, etc. People who experience partial finger amputations struggle with unique challenges, such as intolerance to cold and hypersensitivity to even the slightest pressure.
Physical therapy can provide some degree of relief from hypersensitivity. Methods to desensitize fingers include repeatedly rubbing different textured materials (cotton, wool, velvet, sandpaper, etc.) lightly over the injured finger, placing the injured hand into containers with various items (popcorn kernels, rice, sand, Styrofoam balls, etc.), and tapping the injured fingertip with a soft object. In the beginning, these exercises will be very uncomfortable. It’s important to work with a trained physical therapist in the beginning.
Because the hand is such a complex part of the body, make sure to consult a professional before beginning to exercise your injured finger. The last thing you want to do is make your injury worse and prolong the period of time you’re without full function in your hand. We’re standing by to evaluate your injury and oversee your path to recovery on a timeline that’s dictated only by your injured finger. In some cases, such as TFCC tears (which often cause finger pain) healing can take up to a year! That’s why it’s so important to have any finger injury evaluated by a physical therapist.