Finger joint pain may affect a person’s everyday activities and may have several different causes.
Some people may experience finger joint pain that worsens when they move or press on the finger. Others may have persistent finger joint pain that does not improve with rest or over-the-counter (OTC) treatment.
This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment of finger joint pain.
Finger joint pain can result from:
Finger injuries are common, especially in athletes and people who work with heavy machinery. Common causes of finger injuries include:
- a sprain, which refers to a stretched or torn ligament
- a strain, when a muscle or tendon becomes stretched or torn
- a dislocated finger joint, when a finger bone is forced out of its joint
- a fractured or broken bone, when a finger bone breaks
People can treat mild sprains and strains with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) therapy.
- Rest. Avoid moving or using the injured finger for a few days. Consider immobilizing the injured finger by using a splint or buddy taping it to another finger.
- Ice. Place an ice pack on the injured finger for 20 minutes at a time, between four and eight times daily. Applying ice can help reduce swelling and minimize pain.
- Compression. Wrap the injured finger in a soft dressing or a bandage. Make sure the bandage is snug, but not constricting.
- Elevation. Keep the injured finger above the heart to reduce blood pressure and swelling in the finger.
Taking OTC pain medicines, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling.
Severe injuries, such as dislocations and fractures, require medical intervention. A healthcare professional can move a finger bone back into its joint and reset a fractured bone. They will then immobilize the finger to allow it to heal properly.
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve, which extends from the forearm, through the carpal tunnel, and into the palm. People may experience pain or numbness in the fingers and hand if the median nerve becomes compressed inside the carpal tunnel.
People can develop carpal tunnel if they injure their wrist or hand. Repetitive movements, such as typing, can irritate the ligaments that form the carpal tunnel. Some people develop carpal tunnel with no known cause.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of a person’s symptoms. They can include:
Tendons are cords of collagen tissue that attach muscles to bones. Two common problems that affect the tendons are tendonitis and tenosynovitis.
Tendonitis occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed, which can lead to swelling, discomfort, and reduced movement.
Tenosynovitis refers to inflammation of the tendon sheath, which is the thin membrane that encloses a tendon. It can lead to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
People can treat mild tendon problems with RICE therapy. People who have severe or persistent symptoms may require:
- corticosteroid injections to relieve swelling
- physical therapy
Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled growths that usually develop on the back of the wrist and the end of finger joints. These growths can feel soft or firm to the touch. They are usually harmless, but some people report feeling tenderness, pain, or weakness near a ganglion cyst.
The exact cause of ganglion cysts remains unknown. However, researchers believe these soft tissue masses develop from connective tissue injuries and chronic conditions that affect the joints, such as arthritis.
Ganglion cysts typically resolve without medical intervention. Doctors tend to reserve treatment for ganglion cysts that cause pain or affect mobility. Depending on its location, a doctor can drain or surgically remove a ganglion cyst.
Arthritis is a general term for conditions that lead to joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Two common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
- joint pain and swelling
- joint stiffness that lasts around 30 minutes, especially in the morning
- difficulty walking, sitting, or standing up
- loss of mobility in the small joint of the hands and fingers
- difficulty performing fine motor tasks, such as gripping and tying shoelaces
The goals of arthritis treatment include:
- reducing pain
- improving joint mobility
- slowing disease progression
A doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- disease-modifying medications that inhibit the body’s natural immune response
- oral or topical pain relievers
- NSAIDs or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- physical therapy to improve mobility and strengthen the joints
- surgery to repair or replace joints
- supportive devices, such as braces and walkers
- lifestyle changes, including weight loss to relieve stress on the joints
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to various musculoskeletal complications that affect the hands and fingers, such as Dupuytren’s contracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, and diabetic neuropathy.
Dupuytren’s contracture refers to the thickening of the connective tissues in the palm. Over time, the bands of connective tissue become shorter, which can cause the fingers to bend toward the palm.
Symptoms of Dupuytren’s contracture include:
- pain or discomfort in the fingers or palm
- nodular growths or pits on the fingers
- difficulty flattening the palm
- difficulty using the hands or performing fine movements
Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that develops in people with diabetes. Neuropathy can affect the nerves in the arms and hands, which can lead to a burning or tingling sensation, numbness, or weakness.
Treatments for hand and finger conditions related to diabetes focus on alleviating symptoms and preventing disease progression.
Doctors usually treat Dupuytren’s contracture with corticosteroid injections, pain medications, and physical therapy.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), other treatments for diabetic neuropathy include:
- nerve pain medications, such as certain types of antidepressants or anticonvulsants
- lidocaine ointment or patches
- physical therapy
Although rare, tumors can develop in the soft tissue, bones, ligaments, or tendons of the fingers. A tumor in or near a finger joint can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.
If the tumor is cancerous, people may experience:
- bone pain that comes and goes
- swelling and tenderness in the affected site
- weakened bones, which can lead to fractures
- unintended weight loss
Non-cancerous, or benign, tumors do not necessarily require medical treatment. As long a person does not experience pain or changes in mobility, they can safely live with a benign tumor.
A doctor will likely recommend removing a cancerous tumor in a finger joint. They will send the tumor or a sample of it to a pathologist for further analysis. A pathologist can assess the type of tumor and its origin. This information helps doctors determine the best course of treatment.
If a tumor originated from a bone, a doctor might use one or more of the following treatment options for bone cancer:
Soft tissue cancer can also cause a tumor in a finger joint. According to the American Cancer Society, treatments for soft tissue cancer usually involve some form of surgery.
A doctor can surgically remove small tumors along with the surrounding healthy tissue. This method ensures no cancer cells get left behind.
It is harder for a doctor to treat soft tissue cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. A doctor may still attempt to remove tumors and any affected lymph nodes with surgery.
If cancer has spread to an organ system, a doctor will likely recommend systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
A person should contact their doctor if they experience severe finger pain or any of the following symptoms:
- numbness or tingling in their fingers or hand
- difficulty moving or straightening their fingers
- a finger that appears red and swollen
- finger pain that does not improve with at-home or OTC treatment
- regularly taking breaks when performing repetitive hand motions
- wearing proper protective gear when playing contact sports
- following treatment recommendations for chronic health conditions
- eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight
- keeping blood sugar levels under control
Finger joint pain can occur due to several causes and may affect a person’s everyday activities.
An injured finger should improve with rest and pain medication. Injuries might include sprain, strain, dislocation, or fracture.
A doctor may need to reset a fractured bone.
Inflammation due to arthritis or infections can also lead to finger joint pain. A person’s symptoms should improve once they treat the underlying condition.
People should contact a doctor if they experience finger joint pain that worsens or does not improve with OTC treatment.