A cut finger is a common injury. People may sustain these injuries during falls or if they accidentally slip with a knife or other sharp object.
A cut finger injury can range from mild to severe. Most minor cuts heal after first aid at home. However, deep cuts may require emergency treatment, such as stitches or surgery.
This article outlines when to seek emergency help for a cut finger and how to treat minor cuts at home. We also outline some of the medical treatments for deeper cuts and provide tips on aftercare and recovery.
A person will need emergency treatment for deep cuts that require stitches, or for a fingertip that is partially or fully severed.
People should also seek immediate medical attention for the following:
- a wound more than three-quarters of an inch in length
- a wound more than a quarter of an inch deep
- an injury that exposes the bone
- bleeding that does not stop, even after compressing and elevating the injured finger
- a wound that affects the nerves, joints, or tendons
- a suspected broken bone
- if dirt or foreign objects are embedded into the wound
A person should also seek emergency medical attention if they sustain an open injury, and they are not up-to-date with their tetanus shots or boosters.
When a person cuts their finger, they should try to stop the bleeding and assess the severity of the injury.
First aid for a cut finger injury involves:
- cleaning the affected area quickly with soap and water
- applying petroleum jelly to moisten the wound and help promote healing
- covering the finger with a bandage or dressing to slow bleeding and prevent infection
- elevating the hand to reduce inflammation and swelling
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to help reduce swelling and alleviate pain
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the majority of minor cuts heal within a week.
If a person completely severs their fingertip or finger, they should follow these steps:
- cleaning the severed portion of the finger with water
- covering the severed part in moistened gauze
- placing this inside a sealable plastic bag, then putting the bag inside a watertight container filled with ice
- taking this to the emergency room along with the injured person
If a cut finger is large and deep, a doctor will need to look at the injury. Before examining the finger, they may offer a numbing injection to help alleviate any pain.
They will then clean the wound, removing dead tissue and contaminants, a process known as debridement.
In some cases, a doctor may recommend leaving the wound open to heal on its own. Otherwise, they may recommend stitches or surgery.
Surgery may be necessary for deep and wide cuts, or for injuries that expose the bone.
There are two main surgical procedures for deep cuts on the finger:
- Skin graft: A surgeon uses healthy skin from elsewhere on the body to cover the injured area. They will then use stitches to secure the skin graft.
- Reconstructive surgery (RS): This surgery may be necessary for severe injuries that affect both the skin and its underlying soft tissues. During RS, a surgeon removes a flap of skin, fat, and blood vessels from elsewhere on the hand and uses it to cover the open wound.
If the finger is severed, a surgeon may perform a replantation procedure to reattach it. This is a complicated procedure with a lengthy recovery period.
A person may also receive a tetanus booster shot if they are not up-to-date with their tetanus vaccinations.
During the recovery process, people should be aware of signs that the wound is not healing correctly. They should see their doctor if they experience:
- symptoms of an infection, such as:
- pain or tenderness
- a bad odor
- slow healing
- nerve pain
People should change their wound bandages daily until the cut heals. However, they should take care, as exposing the cut to the open environment may cause an infection.
Full recovery from a finger replantation can take months or even years. During the recovery period, people can aid the healing process by:
- practicing physical therapy to prevent stiffness of the joints and minimize the formation of scar tissue
- avoiding holding the hand below the heart level for extended periods of time, as this can affect circulation to the replanted finger
- quitting smoking to improve circulation to the replanted finger
- wearing a brace to support the finger during certain activities or hobbies
Physical therapy is also important for people who experience a complete finger amputation. In these cases, doctors may suggest they wear a finger prosthesis to help them carry out day-to-day tasks.
It is essential to see a doctor if a finger cut or wound becomes infected.
Signs of a possible infection include:
- noticeable redness
- a feeling of increased warmth in the affected finger
- presence of pus
- foul odor from the wound
- slow healing
- worsening pain
A finger cut is a common injury that can range from mild to severe. In either case, a person will need to perform first aid to help stem the bleeding and reduce the risk of infection.
Treatments for a cut finger injury depend on the severity. Most mild cuts are treatable at home with first aid and routine aftercare. However, a severe cut may need emergency treatment, such as stitches or surgery.
After treatment, minor cuts may take less than a week to heal, while more severe cuts may take months. Anyone who experiences pain or signs of infection during this time should visit their doctor for further examination and treatment.