Finger Pain

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain in the finger

Causes

There are many possible causes of finger pain. Some common minor causes are:

  • Bruised ulnar nerve (bumped "funny bone")
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (pain from pressure on the median nerve)
  • Cellulitis (skin infection)
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome (pain from pressure on the ulnar nerve)
  • Muscle strain and joint sprain
  • Overuse
  • Paronychia (fingernail infection)
  • Raynaud's phenomenon (also known as Raynaud's Disease)
  • Tendinitis

Often finger and hand pain can be from arthritis. Arthritis means joint ("arthr") inflammation ("itis"). The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Gout: This type of arthritis happens to some people because of a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Pain from gout or gouty arthritis comes on quickly. A person will notice rapid onset of severe pain, redness, and swelling in one joint.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is also called "wear and tear" arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis. As people get older the cartilage in the joints wears down. This type of arthritis often affects both sides of the body equally. The joints hurt and feel stiff. Osteoarthritis is seen more often after age 50. Nearly everyone will get some degree of wear and tear arthritis as they get older.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is a rare type of arthritis. It usually affects both sides of the body. In addition to pain, there can be joint redness, swelling, stiffness, and warmth. Special blood tests are needed to diagnose this type of arthritis.

When Should You Seek Medical Help Right Away?

Here are some signs that the finger pain might be serious. You should seek medical help right away if:

  • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
  • Joint swelling with fever

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Finger Pain

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Severe pain
  • Fever and swollen joint
  • Fever and red area of skin
  • Large red area or red streak
  • Weakness (loss of strength) in fingers of new onset
  • Numbness (loss of feeling) in fingers of new onset
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Yellow pus under skin around fingernail (cuticle) or pus under fingernail
  • Looks like a boil, infected sore, or other infected rash
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Finger pain keeps you from working or going to school
  • Finger pain lasts more than 7 days
  • Finger pains on and off for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)
  • Finger numbness (loss of feeling) or tingling (pins and needles feeling) for weeks or months
  • Finger locking (gets stuck in one position) for weeks or months
  • Morning stiffness of hands and fingers for weeks or months
  • Swollen finger joint
  • Caused or worsened by exposure to cold (such as finger hurts and changes color when taking something out of freezer)
  • Caused or worsened by bending the neck
  • Caused or worsened by using computer keyboard and/or mouse
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild finger pain
  • Mild pain and redness of skin around fingernail (cuticle, nail fold)
  • Caused by overuse from recent vigorous activity (such as scrubbing floor)
  • Caused by bumping funny bone (brief tingling or burning in hand and fingers that goes away)

Care Advice

Mild Finger Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Finger pain can be caused by many things. Overuse can cause pain. A bruised funny bone can cause brief hand and finger pain. A fingernail infection or ingrown nail can cause pain. Pain can also be caused by arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendinitis.
    • The best way to treat finger pain will depend on the exact cause.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cold or Heat:
    • Some people find that a cold or heat pack helps with the pain.
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day and then as needed.
    • Heat Pack: If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes and then as needed. You can also take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the sore area under the warm water.
  3. What to Expect:
    • Pain from overuse should start to get better in a couple days. The pain should go away within one week.
    • Pain from a fingernail infection should go away in a couple days of treatment with warm water soaks.
    • Pain from a bruised funny bone should go away in a few minutes.
    • Pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can last days to weeks. It gets better quicker if you avoid doing the activity that caused it.
    • Pain and stiffness from arthritis can be chronic. That is, it can last weeks, months or years. Sometimes the pain can flare up and then get better after a couple days.
    • What to expect in other cases will depend on the cause of pain.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain
    • Pain keeps you from doing normal activities (such as school, work)
    • Pain lasts more than 7 days
    • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Overuse of Hand and Fingers

  1. What You Should Know - Overuse:
    • Hand and finger pain are common following overuse of the hand. Such activities can include washing the car or scrubbing the floor. Other types of repeated forceful motions can also cause this (such as sports and work). This problem happens when your body is not used to this amount of activity.
    • The main symptoms are soreness and tenderness of the hand and fingers. Pain increases with certain movements.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Apply a Cold Pack:
    • Apply a cold pack or an ice bag (wrapped in a moist towel) to the area for 20 minutes. Repeat this in 1 hour and then every 4 hours while awake.
    • Do this for the first 48 hours after an injury.
    • This will help decrease pain and swelling.
  3. Apply Heat to the Area:
    • Beginning 48 hours after an injury, apply a warm washcloth or heating pad for 10 minutes three times a day.
    • This will help increase blood flow and improve healing.
  4. Rest vs. Movement:
    • Complete rest should only be used for the first day or two after an injury.
    • Continue normal activities as much as your pain permits.
    • Avoid heavy lifting and active sports for 1 to 2 weeks or until the pain and swelling are gone.
  5. What to Expect:
    • Minor overuse should start to get better in a couple days.
    • The pain should go away within one week.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain
    • Pain keeps you from doing normal activities (such as school, work)
    • Pain lasts more than 7 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Bruised Funny Bone (Ulnar Nerve Contusion)

  1. What You Should Know - Bruised Funny Bone:
    • You can treat a "bruised funny bone" at home.
    • A direct blow to the inner side of the back elbow can cause tingling and burning pain in the elbow. Pain can shoot down into the hand, usually into the middle, ring, and little fingers (3rd, 4th, and 5th).
    • Your "funny bone" is actually a nerve (ulnar) which wraps around the back of your elbow.
  2. What to Expect:
    • Symptoms from "bruising your funny bone" usually last just a few minutes.
    • If the symptoms last longer than 30 minutes, you should call your doctor.
    • If this happens often, you should call your doctor.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Infected Fingernail (Paronychia) and Ingrown Fingernail

  1. What You Should Know - Infected Fingernail:
    • The medical term for a fingernail infection is paronychia. This can occur because of an ingrown nail, a hangnail, or from cutting your fingernails too short. Often, there is no good reason to explain why it happens.
    • The main symptoms are redness and pain of the skin fold (cuticle) around the nail.
    • Usually you can treat this at home with water soaks and antibiotic ointment. If a pus pocket forms under the skin, you may need to see a doctor to have it drained.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treating a Fingernail Infection - Soak the Finger in Warm Water:
    • Soak the finger in warm water for 15 minutes three times a day.
    • Dry the finger completely.
  3. Treating a Fingernail Infection - Antibiotic Ointment:
    • Put an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointment on the red area.
    • Do this 3 times a day.
  4. Treating an Ingrown Fingernail:
    • An ingrown fingernail can cause pain where it cuts into the skin. To treat this, that sharp corner of the nail needs to be lifted up. This will keep it from cutting into the skin. Here are two ways to do this.
    • Method 1: Place a small amount of Cotton from a cotton ball under the corner of the nail, where it is cutting into your finger.
    • Method 2: Or instead, you can use Dental Floss. Take a short strip of dental floss or fishing line and try to pull it under the corner of the nail. Lift the nail upward. Trim ends of dental floss so that about a half inch (1 cm) is left on each side.
    • Do this every day until it feels better.
  5. What to Expect: The redness and pain should get better in 2 to 3 days.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Redness spreads up the finger
    • A pus pocket forms under the skin
    • You are not getting better in 3 days
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Over-The-Counter Pain Medicines

  1. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 8/20/2017 1:16:08 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:06 PM

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