Jammed vs. Broken Finger: How Can I Tell?

A jammed finger is an incredibly common injury, especially if you play sports. While jammed fingers may be common, they can also be extremely painful and may require medical attention. Below, you can learn how to tell if you have a jammed finger or if the injury might be more severe.

X-rays are essential in differentiating between the two conditions as symptoms can be very similar. Treatment can also be very different so evaluation by a Hand Specialist is essential to diagnose the injury and develop an appropriate treatment plan which sometimes involves surgery or special finger splint.

Differences Between a Jammed Finger and a Broken Finger
A few key differences between a jammed or broken finger:


  • Mild or moderate pain
  • Finger can still bend
  • Redness and swelling that starts to recede after a little while
  • Rarely requires surgery or splinting
  • The ligaments supporting the joints are stretched or or torn
  • The bones remain intact 


  • Finger can’t bend
  • Pain and swelling persist or get worse even after resting and icing.
  • Finger appears deformed or bent out of its natural shape.
  • Often requires surgery or a special splint
  • A broken bone is apparent
  • Ligaments can remain intact

Anatomy of the Finger

Your finger is made up of three different joints. These different joints are supported by ligaments, called collateral ligaments. When you jam your finger, it’s usually because one of these ligaments has been sprained or partially torn. Occasionally if  a  ligament is completely torn, the joint can become dislocated. 


Jammed Finger Signs and Symptoms

A jammed finger will cause pain, swelling, and immobility of the finger. Swelling may occur and last for a few weeks. The swelling should go down after a few weeks, but the swelling may persist depending on the severity of the injury. You may even notice decreased pain and increased mobility even though your finger is still swollen.


The Severity of a Jammed Finger

When you jam your finger, the ligaments are sprained./stretched. There are three grades of sprain depending on the extent of ligament damage:


  • First-degree sprain - The ligaments are stretched but aren’t torn. Typically this causes localized pain and swelling around the joint but there is little difficulty bending or extending the finger.
  • Second-degree sprain - A ligament is partially torn and the joint itself may have been damaged. Symptoms can include more severe pain, significant swelling, and limited range of motion in the entire finger.
  • Third-degree sprain - The ligament is completely torn or ruptured and the finger is partially or fully dislocated. Symptoms include severe pain and swelling, discoloration, and joint instability or deformity. These injuries may require surgery to repair the torn ligament..


How to Alleviate Pain from a Jammed Finger

Always see a medical professional if you believe you have a serious injury. In the meantime, these at-home methods can help alleviate the pain associated with a jammed finger.


  • Take Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen can reduce swelling and help the pain, even for a broken or jammed finger. Read the instructions on the bottle closely and follow the dosage recommendations there.
  • Test your finger’s mobility. If you try to move or bend your finger and feel a sharp pain and experience a lack of motion, you may have a broken finger. If this is the case, see a doctor right away.
  • Rest the injured finger. One of the most important things is to rest your finger. If you have an injured, jammed or broken finger, you may harm or increase the severity of the injury by moving it. Rest is one of the keys to success.
  • Ice the jammed finger. Wrap ice in a paper towel or cloth and place it on your injured finger. This will help reduce the swelling. If possible, ice for 15 minutes every hour.


Should a Jammed Finger be Splinted? 

Generally speaking, most sprained finger should not be splinted. The finger can be buddy-tapd to the finger next to it to encourage movement and provide some protection. Only Grade 3 sprains may require splinting or surgery.


Can Doctors Do Anything for a Sprained Finger?

When a finger is sprained but not broken, a doctor can help you secure a splint and advise you on pain relief methods. They can also offer you peace of mind about the extent of your injury and your prognosis. In some cases, surgery to repair the ligament may be necessary. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a broken finger, however, or if your jammed finger symptoms are severe, you should call a doctor right away. X-rays will be very helpful  in looking at the bones and joints. Some finger injuries could require hand surgery.

What Causes a Broken Finger?

Fingers are one of the most common parts of your body to break. You can break bones in your fingers through accidents with tools, such as hammers and nails, etc., slamming them in a door, falling onto the hand or getting hit while catching a ball. 


Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Finger

Broken fingers are hard to ignore. There is usually intense pain after the incident and potentially a deformed finger. Here are some of the most common symptoms to watch out for if you think you have a broken finger.


  • Swelling, Stiffness, and Bruising. Typically within five to ten minutes, you’ll experience swelling of your finger. You will  also experience stiffness in the joint as you try to bend it, as well as bruising.
  • Numbness. If your finger is numb, that means the nerves in your finger are being compressed. This may be due to swelling along with a severe fracture.
  • Exposed Bone. If you can see your finger bone through your skin, the bone is definitely broken. You should go to the emergency room immediately.


Common Types of Fractures In a Broken Finger

A "broken bone" is actually the same thing as a fracture, and there are several types of fractures possible when your finger is injured.


  • Avulsion Fracture. The ligament and tendon attached to the bone pull away from the main bone in your finger.
  • Impacted Fracture. The broken ends of the bone move into each other.
  • Shear Fracture. The bone splits into two pieces that move away from each other.
  • Open Fracture. The bone is exposed through your skin.
  • Closed Fracture. The bone breaks, but your skin is intact.
  • Non-displaced/Stable Fracture. The bone will crack slightly or completely, but it doesn’t move.
  • Displaced Fracture. The bone breaks in place and cannot line up again.
  • Comminuted Fracture. The bone breaks in three or more places.


What Can Doctors Do for a Broken Finger?

At the doctor’s office, you will get an X-Ray to determine the type and location of the fracture. After this, your treatment will depend on the type of fracture you have. Some fractures simply require  taping two fingers together and forming a splint (buddy taping). Other fractures may require surgery. This really depends on the stability of your finger and how severe the fracture is.


At-Home Treatment Before You Go to the Doctor

If you believe your finger may be broken, you should schedule an appointment with a doctor. You should also take care of your finger with these simple first-aid tips.


  • Do not try to set the bone yourself or push the exposed bone back into the skin. If the bone of your finger is visible, go to the emergency room immediately.
  • Stabilize your finger by creating a splint. You can do this with any firm object, such as a popsicle stick. Tape your finger or fingers around the popsicle stick to make sure they are stabilized.
  • Apply an ice compress to your finger(s). Make sure to put a paper towel or washcloth in between the ice and your finger on your way to the emergency room.


Can a Broken Finger Heal at Home? 

In some cases, a broken finger can heal at home and without the need for surgery, but that doesn’t mean you should skip a visit to the doctor. The doctor needs to assess the extent of the damage, determine whether surgery is required, and secure your finger properly so it can heal without compromising long-term function. Fingers are very important! 


What happens to an untreated broken finger?

An Untreated broken finger can cause serious damage to the tissues around it, such as tendons, nerves and joints. Ultimately this damage could require extensive surgery to repair. The bone could heal in a crooked position, or with deformities that cause arthritis to develop very quickly. Permanent stiffness, swelling and pain are common after an improperly treated broken finger. It is far better to treat any injury sooner rather than later. 


Follow-Up Procedures

We are passionate about helping our patients heal. If you or a loved one is in need of medical attention, do not hesitate to call us. We are ready and able to assist you with any of your needs.