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Finger Pain

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

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. Be sure to visit your doctor if you experience ongoing or unexplained pain in your fingers.

What causes finger pain?

The most common cause of finger pain is a hand injury. Injuries to the finger can cause an open cut, a bruised or fractured bone, or muscle and tissue damage.

Common injuries that result in finger pain are:

  • broken fingers, often caused by jamming the finger during contact sports or while improperly handling heavy-duty equipment
  • cuts
  • broken fingernails

Medical conditions that affect the nerves, muscles, or bones can also cause finger pain. For example, osteoarthritis causes the breakdown of cartilage, which is a tissue that cushions bones at joints. This breakdown causes bones to rub together and triggers pain and stiffness. In the hands, osteoarthritis can affect the joints at the base of the thumb, in the middle of the finger, and near the nail bed. Other conditions that can cause finger pain include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • osteoporosis
  • muscular dystrophy
  • multiple sclerosis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • boils
  • nodules
  • cysts
  • tumors

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

How to identify types of finger pain

Finger pain may feel dull and achy, or it may be sharp and cramp-like. The pain may start suddenly and then go away.

If you have a broken finger, it will usually be swollen, purple or blue in color, and extremely painful. In some cases, the bone might be physically separated and visible through the skin.

A finger dislocation occurs when the bones of your finger or thumb dislocate from their joints. In some cases, the dislocation is visible. You may also experience throbbing pain or a sharp shooting pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and other medical conditions that affect the nerves and muscles in your arm and hand can cause:

  • throbbing pain in the hand and fingers
  • pain when moving the affected fingers or when moving your wrist
  • difficulty typing or writing
  • hand tremors

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.

If you have a growth on your hand, such as a boil or nodule, you may experience the following signs 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 is tender to the touch

How do doctors diagnose finger pain?

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. More information will be needed if you have pain when using your fingers that has no apparent cause.

Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history, medications you take, and your occupation. From 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, the doctor may order additional imaging tests or a nerve study. A nerve study looks for nerve damage or nerve dysfunction.

How to treat finger pain

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.

Extensive burns, deep cuts, or bruising caused by fractures may not go away without treatment. Extensive burns may be treated in a hospital using a burn graph and pain medication. You may require stitches if your cuts are deep. The pain may last for weeks after treatment as the area heals.

Your doctor may prescribe pain medications for unexplained finger pain or pain caused by nerve, tissue, or muscle damage. Other treatment options, such as surgery, hand exercises, or special gear-like splints, may be necessary to completely relieve the pain.

What’s the long-term outlook?

Finger pain can be disruptive to your life. It can be difficult to work with finger pain if your job involves typing or using your hands. Finger pain can also make it harder to enjoy some leisure activities or complete simple tasks around the house, but you don’t have to live in pain. Make an appointment with your doctor if your pain doesn’t improve or worsens. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn and Valencia Higuera
Medically reviewed on: Sep 16, 2015: Steven Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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