finger pain

Finger Pain – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Finger Pain – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is finger pain?

Finger pain is a throbbing, cramp like, or achy pain that’s felt in any of your fingers, including your thumb. It often results from an accident or a medical condition.

Finger pain includes any kind of discomfort in the tissues or joints of the finger. Finger pain may be described as throbbing, aching, increased warmth, tingling, soreness or stiffness. Burning or prickling sensations in a finger, often called pins and needles, are called paresthesias. Paresthesias are often due to temporary or permanent damage or pressure on the nerves that carry sensation messages from the hand and fingers to the spinal cord. 

In most cases, finger pain isn’t serious and will go away on its own. However, unexplained finger pain can be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

The finger is made up of nerves, bones, blood vessels, muscles and skin. Finger joints are the areas where bones meet and consist of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bursas (fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint), and synovial membranes and fluid, which lubricate joints. Any of these structures in the finger can become irritated or inflamed and painful in response to a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders or conditions, such as trauma, infection and inflammation.

Common causes of finger pain include injury or trauma, such as bending your finger backward (hyperextension) or from repetitive use, such as long periods of keyboarding. More serious conditions, such as diabetes or a neck or spinal cord injury, can also cause pain or a burning sensation in your fingers. Sore joints in the fingers may be caused by arthritis, inflammation, and age-related wear and tear. Depending on the cause, your pain may be short term and disappear quickly, or it may develop slowly over weeks or months.

What other symptoms might occur with finger pain?

Other symptoms may occur with finger pain. Additional symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, finger pain due to a serious infection that has spread to the blood may be accompanied by swelling, fever and chills, as well as redness and warmth around the affected area.

Other symptoms that may occur with finger pain include:

  • Arm or wrist pain
  • Bruising or other discoloration
  • Decreased grip strength
  • Drainage or pus
  • Fingernail problems, such as bruising under the nail or detachment of the nail
  • Symptoms of flu(fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, cough, aches and pains)
  • Lacerations, abrasions, sores or lesions
  • Lumps or bumps along the finger
  • Numbness
  • Reduced range of motion or movement of a joint
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling

What causes finger pain?

The finger consists of nerves, blood vessels, muscles, skin and joints. The hand and finger joints are made up of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bursas (fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint), and synovial membranes and fluid that lubricate the joints. Any of the structures in the finger can become irritated or inflamed in response to a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders or conditions, such as trauma, infection and nerve compression.

Tingling pain in the fingers can be due to compression of the nerves that carry sensation messages from the hand and fingers to the spinal cord. Tingling of both the pinky finger and ring finger together can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm due to problems with the shoulder, elbow or wrist joint. Tingling of the thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger can be due to problems with the median nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, finger pain is a symptom of a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting, such as a broken bone or invasive bacterial infection.

Pain at the site of injury

A cut on your finger may cause pain at the site of the injury. Depending on how deep the cut is, you may also feel pain that spreads or radiates to surrounding areas of your hand.

Pain accompanied by lumps

If you have a growth on your hand, such as a boil or nodule, you may experience the following symptoms along with your finger pain:

  • a fluid-filled lump
  • a hardened area of skin
  • a movable lump under the surface of the skin
  • a lump that’s tender to the touch

Medical conditions

Medical conditions that affect the nerves, muscles, or bones can also cause finger pain.

For example, osteoarthritis (OA) causes the breakdown of cartilage. This breakdown causes bones to rub together and triggers pain and stiffness. In the hands, OA can affect the joints at the base of the thumb, in the middle of the finger, and near the nail bed.

A compressed or pinched nerve in the arm, wrist, or hand can also contribute to finger or thumb pain.

Degenerative, infectious and inflammatory causes of finger pain

Finger pain can be associated with inflammatory or infectious conditions including:

  • Age-related wear and tear on the joints and osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that protects and cushions joints)
  • Cellulitis (invasive skin infection that can spread to the surrounding tissues)
  • Ganglion cyst (benign growth or swelling on top of a joint or tendon)
  • Infection, such as a Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection
  • Paronychia (infection around the nail)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Septic arthritis (infectious arthritis)

Nerve-related causes of finger pain

Finger pain, particularly tingling or numbness in the fingers, may be caused by moderate to serious conditions that compress nerves and can lead to nerve damage including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (compression in the wrist area of the nerve that provides feeling and movement to the palm and thumb side of the hand)
  • Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disc disease in the neck)
  • Herniated disc
  • Neck injury
  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as the ulnar nerve in the arm

Other neurological causes of finger pain

Finger pain can be associated with a variety of other conditions that can affect or damage the nervous system including:

  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)
  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, lack of coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Neuroma in the finger
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord)
  • Spinal cord injury or tumor
  • Stroke
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Questions for diagnosing the cause of finger pain

To diagnose the underlying cause of a finger pain, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider diagnose the cause of your finger pain:

  • What is the exact location of the pain?
  • Describe the pain. Is it sharp or dull, tingling or burning? When did it start? How long does it last? Does the pain occur during or after certain activities?
  • Have you had any recent injuries, including exposure to cold or frostbite?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as swelling?
  • What is your full medical history? What medications do you take? Do you smoke?

What are the potential complications of finger pain?

Complications associated with finger pain vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder and condition and can be serious. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience persistent pain or other unusual symptoms related to your fingers or hands. Following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you will minimize the risk of complications including:

  • Chronic disability
  • Finger amputation
  • Finger deformity
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Spread of infection to other tissues

Treating finger pain at home

  • rest your finger when you can
  • put an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) in a towel and place it on your finger for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
  • take paracetamol to ease the pain
  • stop or cut down activities that are causing the pain – for example, typing, using vibrating tools for work, or playing an instrument
  • remove any jewellery on the painful finger
  • strap the painful finger to another finger next to it – put a small piece of cotton wool or gauze between the 2 fingers and use tape to loosely strap them together
  • think about using gadgets or tools to make difficult or painful tasks easier – for example, to open jars or chop vegetables

When to see a doctor?

Because finger pain can be a sign of a serious infection or inflammation, you should contact your medical professional about your symptoms. Seek prompt medical care if you have finger pain with swelling, redness, warmth or fever. Ifyou suspect any of the following types of injury, it is always better to refer a specialist

  • Broken finger or stress fracture
  • Crush injury
  • Degloving injury (separation of the skin and top layer of tissue from the finger)
  • Laceration or blunt force trauma, such as a dog bite
  • Repetitive stress injury
  • Splinter or other foreign body
  • Sprain or strain
  • Finger pain caused by cuts, scrapes, or burns will often heal without treatment. You simply need to give the area time to heal. You can take over-the-counter pain medications to help ease your discomfort.
  • If you have a cut or growth on your finger, your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition based on a physical examination alone. If you have pain when using your fingers and there’s no obvious cause, more information will be needed.
  • Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history, medications you take, and your occupation. Using this information, your doctor can decide which tests are necessary for a proper diagnosis.
  • Common tests for diagnosing finger pain include blood tests and imaging tests, such as X-rays.
  • An X-ray can show any fractures and abnormal growths within the finger. If an X-ray isn’t enough to determine a diagnosis, your doctor may order additional imaging tests or a nerve study. A nerve study looks for nerve damage or nerve dysfunction.

Please let us know if you have any questions and do leave a comment

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