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Common Football Hand Injuries

Football season has kicked off! With the fun and excitement of watching games comes the inevitable injuries to the players. Even with taking precautions, serious injuries can occur on the football field.

Recent studies have shown that every year in the United States, there are between 600,000 and 1.2 million injuries in high school and college football. About 48 percent of these injuries affect the hands and fingers of the player.

Fractures of the finger or thumb cause the most time out of football. Even though hands and fingers are highly susceptible to injuries during a practice or a game, most can be healed with proper medical care. Other injuries could lead to permanent damage if not treated immediately.

Here are the most common hand injuries caused by football:

Mallet Finger — caused when the tendon that straightens your finger (the extensor tendon) is damaged. When a ball or other object strikes the tip of the finger or thumb and forcibly bends it, the force tears the tendon that straightens the finger. The force of the blow may even pull away a piece of bone along with the tendon. The tip of the finger or thumb no longer straightens. Fortunately, this is an injury that can usually be treated without surgery and still have excellent results.

Finger Sprain — an injury to the ligaments that holds the finger joints together. There may be a small bone chip on either side of the joint, indicating that a ligament was ruptured. Bone chips can get caught in the joint, creating a potentially serious problem. Finger sprains can have long-lasting effects. You could develop an excessive amount of swelling or scar tissue around the joint. An injury to the joint of a finger can leave the it stiff. If a young athlete has a finger sprain, it is vital to get expert medical attention.

Jersey Finger — an injury to the flexor tendon that bends the finger. It’s called a “jersey finger” because it most often occurs when a football player pulls the tendon off of the bone at the tip of the finger when he grabs the uniform of an opponent. The finger forcefully extends, rupturing the tendon. Surgical treatment is necessary to reattach the tendon.

Dislocation of the Finger — an injury that involves a dislocation of the joint at the tip of the finger (distal interphalangeal joint – DIP) or closer to the base of the finger (proximal interphalangeal joint – PIP). In sports, these dislocations can often be reduced on the sidelines or in the training room by the athletic trainer or team doctor. X-rays can be helpful to determine if a fracture occurred at the joint and that the joint has been properly reduced.

Boutonnière Deformity — generally caused by a forceful blow to the top side of a bent, flexed middle joint of a finger. It also can be caused by a cut on the top of the finger, which can sever the tendon from its attachment to the bone. The tear looks like a buttonhole ("boutonnière" in French). In some cases, the bone can actually pop through the opening. A boutonnière deformity can develop immediately following an injury to the finger or may develop a week to three weeks later. A Boutonnière deformity must be treated early to help retain the full range of motion in the finger.

Gamekeeper’s Thumb — happens when your thumb is pushed sideways away from the index finger, tearing the ligaments between the bones in your thumb. A fall, where you catch your thumb on the way down or a strong twisting motion are common causes. Gamekeeper’s Thumb can worsen over time, so it is important to seek immediate medical attention. A splint that stabilizes and protects your thumb can be worn to give the ligament time to heal. If the ligament has torn away from the bone, wearing a splint that will protect the thumb from further injury until surgery can be done.

Boxer’s Fracture — occurs when you break a bone at the base of your finger, near the knuckle or neck of the bone. That bone is known as a metacarpal. It usually happens to the small (pinky) finger or the ring finger. This fracture when a hand hits a hard object with a closed fist. It can also happen if you hit your flat hand very hard against a hard object.

Many of the hand injuries in sports and exercise can be treated without surgery. Still, proper evaluation by an orthopaedic surgeon can help athletes start proper treatment quickly and minimize the risk of long-term problems.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

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