Appendages O' pain
January 3, 2008 1:16 PM   Subscribe

How to treat possibly broken fingers and toes?

Not going to a doctor. Please avoid suggesting that.

I'm pretty sure I broke or tore something in my pinky. It's been weeks now, but it got all swollen right after, and turned black & blue. The swelling has mainly gone down (I iced the crap out of it), but is focused in the knuckle area, on the inside (touching my ring finger). I can move it all around with almost no pain. But if I try to, say, grasp a handful of change, OUCH!OUCH!OUCH!OUCH!.

I was buddy taping it at first, and that just seems to have little to no effect. I wonder if it isn't a break, but some kind of torn ligament. Should I still be icing it? Or putting heat on it (and how am I supposed to get heat on my pinky knuckle)?

Separately, I have pretty much the same questions about the "ring toe". Same deal except little swelling, but there was the black and blueness. Taping seems to make this one worse too.

How do you treat these injuries on an ongoing basis - icing? heat? Taping? I know it will take 8+ weeks to fully heal, if not longer - I'm just wondering how to best treat it while it heals. Buy a splint from a drug store? What?

Can't afford x-ray/doc's visit. I also read prior questions and didn't find sufficient information. Please help. Thanks!
posted by cashman to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
The toe can heal by itself (don't ask me how I know this) but you just need to suck it up and go to the emergency room with that finger.

Let them bill you, and pay a few dollars a month.
posted by konolia at 1:23 PM on January 3, 2008

I broke most of my toes when I was in a car accident last year. The docs said there wasn't much I could do besides icing when I could (to reduce swelling) and keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage (to keep the swelling down as well). I limped around a lot.

There's not really much you can do for broken toes other than let them heal.

In re: your finger, you probably wouldn't be able to move it much (if at all) if it was broken. You probably did tear something. Maybe you just cracked or fractured it, rather than broke it.

Anyway, if you're worried about the finger, splint it for a few weeks. Ice it, don't heat it. You can make a splint out of a popsicle stick if you really want to, but it's not the best idea.
posted by Verdandi at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2008

To paraphrase Johnny Knoxville, if you're gonna be broke, you'd better be tough.

Ice, ibuprofen and immobilization are best bets if Cashman can't scrape up the cash.
posted by grumpy at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2008

The book Where There Is No Doctor (available for free download here) is really good for figuring out if something is going to kill you, and for figuring out approaches to self-treating.

But that said, for your finger? Go see a doctor. You asked to not hear that, but really, it is honest advice. I don't know where you are, but where I live there are sliding scale clinics, plus the hospitals have big signs up in the admission areas claiming that those without money will still be given care. You've been trying the self-treating approach, and it hasn't worked. Go see a professional.
posted by Forktine at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate it, Forktine. I have heard though, that the treatment suggestion will be nothing I needed a doctor for, only then I'll be out a bunch of money after the x-rays and stuff. Hence my heading to the hive for help.
posted by cashman at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2008

A doctor would be best, but failing that you can purchase a finger splint at the drugstore. If it is broken that is what the doctor will give you.

Are you a student? Most schools have a clinic at least and if there is a med school then the university hospital. Anyway, get yourself some insurance. A traumatic injury, or cancer, could bankrupt you and leave you without adequate care.
posted by caddis at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2008

I broke my clavicle once and didn't go to the doctor with it (junior high school party + alcohol = non-disclosure to parents). It healed up fine and I even gained a super-human ability in the deal; an ability to predict forthcoming bad weather by the ache in my shoulder.

Our bodies are made for things like this. Your fingers will heal up just fine, given enough time and a good diet. It may not work just like it used to, may even cause you some pain in perpituirty, but it will heal. If you're cool with the possibility of reduced digital functionality and potential chronic pain, don't see a doctor. If you want to be absolutely sure you heal as close to your pre-injury peak as you can, go see a doctor.

If the former's your choice, I suggest taping the knuckle in question. Not 'buddy-taping', though that's not inadvisable, but taping the knuckle itself with sports tape to give it some padding.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2008

I appreciate it, Forktine. I have heard though, that the treatment suggestion will be nothing I needed a doctor for, only then I'll be out a bunch of money after the x-rays and stuff. Hence my heading to the hive for help.

That was my experience with a broken finger. A few hours in emergency then a buddy bandage I could have done myself. Thankfully hospital charges here are capped so I think it cost me ten pounds all in.

When I subsequently broke a toe I decided not to bother with the ER and got a friend of mine to x-ray it (he's a veterinarian and has easy access to a machine). When it turned out to be broken another buddy bandage fixed it up.

I'd urge you to have somebody look at the finger though. With ligament damage there's a real danger that you'll continue to suffer from pain and limited movement for a long time.
posted by rog at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2008

Ach ffs! If you don't need your pinky for any fine manipulation and you can put up with the aches and pains for the rest of your normal life, you're doing fine.

otherwise please see a hand surgeon?T&O surgeon?Plastics person? , whomever in your neck of the woods gets full mobility to injured hands. Hands are v. important, which is why here in the UK both Othopods and Plastics ppl specialise in Hand surgery.

The way you describe the pain, the lateral side of the pinky is affected as it touches the medial side of the ring finger. That may help. Please see a doctor.
posted by Wilder at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2008

IANAD, but I've broken more toes and fingers (mostly through my own idiocy) than I care to relate. Toes: dont even bother - even Docs will tell you to tape it up and power through it.
Fingers: Slightly different; minor breaks, see above for toes. Major breaks/injuries, see a Doctor. As rog mentioned above, ligament damage could result in serious permanent injury (well permanent without surgery). Your injury sounds more like muscle/ligament damage ... so get thee to a physician!
posted by elendil71 at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2008

$1400 to repair a partially severed ligament in my left pinky finger. That was at a US hospital, in 1995 dollars, and on my dad's insurance. Take that into consideration if you wish; you may be able to get away with less or get hit for more. In my case however I could see the bones in my finger. When you have exposed bone you don't screw around. For a painful, enlarged joint, well, keep an eye on it.

For what it's worth, my high school art teacher had no mobility in one of her pinky fingers - it stayed in a constant half-curl - but that didn't stop her from getting a Masters degree in ceramics. Working on a potter's wheel can be tough with full functionality in all fingers...
posted by caution live frogs at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: When I was a teenager I broke my bird finger on my right hand skateboarding. Since I was grounded at the time, I didn't tell anyone. A few months later, my mother noticed that it was crooked, she nagged me like hell about getting it fixed but I refused. It hurt like the dickens at the time, but never bothered me until my thirties. It was handy because I always knew I'd bowled a strike because the finger made this really cool popping noise as it came out of the ball. Plus, flipping people off was even more insulting because it was so freaking crooked. Then I got a wicked calcium deposit that made the whole finger sensitive to touch and made me want to cry every time I stuck my hand in my pocket. So I had the deposit removed, and spent a few weeks in a splint. So, moral of the story is, you might be able to wait until you have health insurance. But it's easier to deal with it early.
posted by teleri025 at 6:00 PM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: I doubt you tore anything--you'd have much less pain then

I tore a ligament in my middle finger in high school doing gymnastics. It swelled up about three times its normal size and turned completely purple. I had an X-ray so I know it wasn't broken. It hurt like a mofo for about six months and even now, almost thirty years later, if I hit it wrong, it will send a zinger up my arm. I must not have torn it all the way through because I didn't have surgery and my finger still works.

By the way, they just put a finger splint on it, mostly to keep me from hitting it on stuff.
posted by tamitang at 9:59 PM on January 3, 2008

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