Finger swelling has many potential causes, ranging from accidents and overuse to infections and underlying health conditions.
In more pronounced cases, swollen fingers are also known as dactylitis. People may sometimes also refer to them as “sausage fingers.” The treatment for finger swelling will depend on the cause.
Being aware of certain factors can help with determining the cause of finger swelling. People may wish to take note of:
- possible triggers for swelling, such as a salty meal, change in medication, or encounter with an insect
- the specific location of the swelling
- the time of day when swelling is most pronounced
- degree of discomfort
If a person sees a doctor for finger swelling, letting them know this information may help them make a diagnosis.
The following are some of the more common causes of swollen fingers:
After an injury, the body sends extra blood and fluid to the affected area to provide the raw materials for healing. This action can cause swelling, which leads to a limited range of motion, stiffness, throbbing, and pain due to pressure.
Common types of finger injuries include jammed, smashed, sprained, or dislocated fingers, all of which may cause swelling.
Treatment involves keeping the hand elevated higher than the heart as much as possible. Splinting or wrapping the injured fingers can help by keeping them from moving too much.
Serious injuries that do not heal will require medical attention.
In addition to finger swelling, infections can cause soreness and tenderness, red or dark streaks, and pus in the affected area.
More common in children, infections affecting the fingers are usually due to Streptococcus bacteria, though Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can sometimes be responsible.
Treatment with the appropriate antibiotic, along with cleaning and bandaging by a medical professional, is usually effective.
Learn more about finger infections here.
In hot environments, the blood vessels in the hands dilate. This dilation increases blood flow and releases heat from the body, but it also results in fluid buildup and finger swelling.
Elevating the hands and moving into a cooler environment usually address the problem. Compression gloves could help prevent it, though they are usually unnecessary.
Many types of arthritis can cause swelling in the joints, such as in the fingers. Psoriatic arthritis can cause the whole finger to swell, while osteoarthritis is more likely to affect just the finger joints. The pain can be severe, with the fingers becoming hot and difficult to move.
For milder cases of osteoarthritis, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can reduce finger swelling and pain. Pain due to psoriatic arthritis may require treatment with biologics.
Learn more about arthritis in the hands here.
5. Insect bites or stings
Swelling is a common reaction to insect bites and stings, and it can affect the fingers.
Ice, over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines, and soothing lotions can provide relief. It is important to seek medical help immediately if an individual develops shortness of breath, as this indicates a severe reaction.
6. Repetitive motion disorders
Repetitive motion disorders include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, trigger finger, and ganglion cysts, among others. They result from a person making similar movements over and over. Along with swollen fingers, the symptoms can include pain, numbness, and loss of strength and flexibility.
Ceasing or drastically reducing the movement is key to relieving the symptoms. In combination with ice, pain relievers, physical therapy, and, in the most severe cases, surgery, this should typically bring about recovery.
Learn about repetitive strain injuries here.
Gout is an inflammatory joint disease often associated with the big toe, but it can cause finger swelling when crystals of uric acid form around the knuckles.
OTC pain relievers can provide some relief, and prescription medication will address the systemic condition.
During pregnancy, the body produces up to 50% more blood and bodily fluids, some of which can collect in the feet and hands.
Reducing sodium and caffeine intake can help, along with exercising regularly, elevating the hands when necessary, and increasing the intake of potassium-rich foods, such as bananas.
Pregnant women with concerns about swelling should speak to their doctor to rule out preeclampsia.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that targets connective tissue. It can cause finger swelling, thickening skin, pain, and inflammation, among many other symptoms.
There is no cure for this condition, but doctors may recommend medications to treat certain symptoms. Physical therapy is also an option.
Learn more about scleroderma here.
10. Sickle cell anemia
Children under the age of 4 years with this condition may experience sudden and painful foot or finger swelling. The fingers may feel warm. Other signs and symptoms can include fever, elevated white blood cell count, and anemia.
Finger swelling with sickle cell anemia is self-limiting, but the condition requires ongoing treatment.
Home remedies to relieve swelling in the fingers include:
- applying a towel-wrapped ice pack to the hands or immersing them in cold water
- keeping the hands active by regularly flexing and stretching the fingers, performing range-of-motion exercises, or squeezing a stress ball
- wearing compression gloves
As the cause of swollen fingers will determine the treatment options, a person with persistent or severe swelling should speak to their doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
In many instances, such as after an injury or an insect bite, finger swelling will go away once the affected area heals.
However, people should seek medical help if they experience the following:
- the swelling does not go away or decrease in a few days
- the swelling is sudden, extreme, or both
- the fingers or hand is numb or tingling
- the swelling severely compromises the person’s ability to complete daily activities
- the swelling continues after treatment for an infection
- the hands and fingers are red and warm
- morning stiffness and swelling last for longer than an hour
Pregnant women should see a doctor if their finger swelling occurs alongside a persistent headache, pain in the abdomen or lower back, nausea, shortness of breath, a weight gain of more than 3–5 pounds in a week, or vision changes. These could be signs of preeclampsia.
The outlook for people with finger swelling varies considerably depending on the cause. Careful and consistent self-care, along with advice from a healthcare provider, can help.
Most of the time, finger swelling gets better on its own. However, some underlying conditions may require constant management to prevent and reduce finger swelling.