Did you know that your fingers are one of the most vulnerable parts of your body during most martial arts practice? Considering that so many types of training require you to do all kinds of moves and hits with your hands, it should be no surprise.
There are many kinds of martial arts injuries that can occur while training, but finger injuries are probably among the most difficult, considering how much we rely on our hands for everything.
Martial artists typically won’t let even a major finger injury prevent them from training so understanding common finger injuries and how they occur provides valuable insight on prevention and support post-injury.
The following injuries are the different categories of injuries most commonly suffered by martial artists.
Most Common Finger Injuries in Martial Arts
Description: Broken finger bone. The four front digits have three bones called the phalanges: proximal (closest) phalanx, middle phalanx, and distal (furthest) phalanx. In a fracture, the phalanx itself breaks. Fractures most likely also come with other injuries including tendon and ligament damage.
Causes: Crushing impact. Jammed fingers: direct impact to fingertip
Aftermath: Get to a doctor for realignment and possible further treatment then:
1. Wear a finger splint (Complete immobilization of the whole finger)
2. Tape fractured finger to adjacent finger (buddy taping) to provide splint like support but with some mobility.
Description: A dislocation occurs when a bone is pushed/pulled out of alignment from its joints. A directional impact to the bone pushes the finger in a direction where it is not meant to bend.
Causes: Direct impact on a single finger, collision, falling while outstretched, pushing/pulling a single finger in the wrong direction
Aftermath: Joint must be reset. Swelling of the joint. Once the joint is dislocated it is susceptible to frequent dislocations moving forward. Physical therapy and/or stability exercises are required to retain mobility, stability, and strength.
Sprain / Hyperextension
Description: Sprains are the stretching and tearing of a ligament –tough bands of tissue that connects two bones together in joints. Sprains or hyperextensions are a painful joint alignment injury that is similar but less severe than a dislocation. They are both caused when a joint is extended out of its normal alignment. Hyperextended fingers do not dislocate fully but can cause strain in ligaments and tendons.
Causes: Falling while outstretched, jammed fingers (directional impact at the tip), directional impact pushing the finger against the joint
Aftermath: Rest and apply ice. Minimize use and movement during healing.
Description: The so-called Jersey Finger injury is characterized through the inability to flex finger. Damaged tendon at the base of the finger
Causes: Gripping and holding another athlete or another athlete’s clothing
Aftermath: Use ice, rest, and consult a specialist for further treatment or surgery.
Effects: Knuckle joints, tendons
Description: In the case of the Boutonnière Deformity, the finger resembles an ocean wave. The first knuckle protrudes, the second knuckle flexes inwards, and the last knuckle protrudes. Pain occurs in the middle knuckle and deformity is often distinctively visible. [See: Keenan Cornelius fingers]
Causes: Impact to the top of the finger (jams), gripping another athlete or another athlete’s clothing, consecutive sprains
Aftermath: Wearing a splint, or surgery.
Long-Term Effects of Some or All of These Finger Injuries
Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small, fluid-filled sacs (called bursae) that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near your joints. Bursitis occurs when bursae become inflamed.
The symptoms of Bursitis of the fingers are achy or stiff fingers, swelling, redness, sharpshooting joint pain and the sudden inability to move the joint.
Treatment typically involves resting the affected joint and protecting it from further trauma. In most cases, bursitis pain goes away within a few weeks with proper treatment, but recurrent flare-ups of bursitis are common.
Osteo-Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. It causes cartilage (the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint) to break down. It’s caused by wear-and-tear damage to your joint's cartilage. Enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury.
The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and a decreased range of motion, which all typically worsen with age and trauma.
The common martial artist typically won’t compromise efficiency or mobility for the protection of a finger but it’s clear how significant these injuries can become. In today’s world, a martial artist who acquires a finger injury not only suffers time off of training but is also affected in numerous areas of life such as using a computer and other day-to-day tasks.
How to Prevent Finger Injuries Before They Occur
The most important advice any martial arts trainer can give you is to wear gloves at all times. This way, you can protect yourself from the roughest impact while training and improve some of the characteristics in your hands as well. Grappz is a good example of a compression glove for martial arts which offers both protection and strength training.
Another important measure to take is to make sure you understand the technique behind every martial arts move before attempting it yourself. Most finger injuries occur from doing a move incorrectly, so even if you need to ask your trainer to show you a move one extra time, make sure you don’t do it until absolutely certain that you understood its mechanics.
The best way to learn how to practice martial arts safely is to have a pro teach you the ropes. Book a martial arts camp for beginners and let a master train you to become your best version!