Our fingers are among the most active parts of our bodies. We use them all the time to explore and manipulate the physical world around us. This exposes them to a lot of foreign elements and predisposes them to various kinds of injuries. As a result it may become inflamed and swelling is one consequence of inflammation.
In order to understand finger swelling, it is useful to first know a little bit about how our fingers are constructed. Our fingers are made up of small bones that are joined to each other through connective tissues called ligaments. We move our fingers through the action of muscles in our hands and forearms.
These muscles connect to the bones in the fingers through their tendons, and coordinate the movements of finger bones at their joints. The fingers themselves do not have any muscles. The cushy part of the fingers is made up of connective tissue and fat lying just under the skin. Apart from being flexible, our fingers are also one of the most sensitive regions in the body due to the presence of many sensory receptors.
Swelling in the fingers usually signals inflammation and accumulation of fluid in the connective tissue or joints of the fingers. This may occur in various parts of the fingers due to different causes. It may be part of hand and arm swelling.
Read more on arm swelling.
Other Features with Swollen Fingers
The appearance of swollen fingers varies with the underlying cause. Swelling may occur either in one finger or more than one finger. It may be seen along the whole length of the finger or be restricted to a small area on the finger. The swelling can even extend to the whole hand. Swollen fingers may also be accompanied by other signs and symptoms. These include:
- Pain and tenderness in the finger (either along the whole length or just a small part).
- Discoloration ( blue and purple hues) of the skin overlying the swollen finger.
- Burning or itching sensations over the swollen part of the fingers.
- Numbness in the swollen fingers.
- Pins-and-needles sensation or a tingling sensation in the swollen fingers.
- Stiffness in the joints of the fingers, resulting in restricted movements.
- Redness and heat sensation in the swollen area of the fingers.
- Nodules or bumps on the fingers.
- Fever and chills.
- Bruises or cuts on the fingers.
- Pus in the swollen parts.
Read more on knuckle pain.
Some of the causes of swollen fingers may result in serious additional complications if not treated in time. If swelling in fingers occurs along with the following signs and symptoms, it is advisable to seek immediate medical care.
- High grade fever (above 101 °F).
- Immobility of fingers.
- Severe pain.
- Visual deformity.
Lack of prompt medical attention for persistent swelling in fingers, that is accompanied by pain and other unusual symptoms may lead to finger deformity, amputation and chronic disability. Complications may even spread to other parts of the body.
Causes of Swollen Fingers
Swelling in the fingers is mainly caused by an inflammatory reaction that leads to fluid accumulation in the tissue spaces. This could occur in a variety of conditions. The causes can be broadly classified as follows:
Injuries to the fingers and the hand are common reasons for swelling in these parts. There are various types of injuries that can cause finger swelling. Some of these are described below.
- Blunt force trauma: This type of injury happens when the hands forcefully collide with a flat surface. Examples of events that can cause blunt force trauma include breaking a fall with the hands, a blow to the hands and fingers, and striking a hard object.
- Fractures: Broken finger bones also cause swelling. Bone fractures are caused by forceful impact on the hands, such as those that occur in accidents or sports. Fingers may also swell due to stress fractures caused by prolonged repetitive motions.
- Injuries caused by sharp objects: Cuts due to sharp objects like blades, nails, and knives injure the connective tissues in the fingers and result in inflammation and swelling. Infection may also occur in these cases.
- Animal bites and insect stings: Injuries caused by animal bites and insect stings can not only cause injury, but also result in infections and allergic reactions.
- Compression injuries: Swelling may occur in localized regions of the fingers due to compression, such as that caused by wearing tight rings for prolonged periods.
- Injury due to corrosive substance: Handling of corrosive substances without protective gloves may result in spills on the fingers, eventually causing inflammation and swelling.
- Foreign bodies: Sometimes, the swelling may be due to an inflammatory reaction to a foreign body that gets lodged under the skin (or deeper in the subcutaneous tissue).
Infections are caused by microbes (e.g., bacteria) that gain entry into the tissues of the fingers through a break in the skin barrier (e.g., caused by some sort of injury). Since we use our hands to touch various things, wounds on the fingers have are prone to being infected by pathogenic microbes. Following are some types of infections that could result in finger swelling:
- Cellulitis: Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection of the tissues under the skin. Without prompt treatment, it can spread quickly and even become life-threatening.
- Paronychia: Paronychia is a nail disease caused by either bacterial or fungal infection. The swelling and redness in paronychia is usually restricted to the tips of the fingers (in the regions around the nails).
- Septic arthritis: This is caused by bacterial infection of the spaces between the joints of the finger bones.
- Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis refers to inflammation caused by infection of the bones. This may occur due to deep injuries that reach the bones of the fingers. It may also occur when bacteria from another part of the body travel to the bones of the fingers through blood.
Inflammation and swelling can occur in the fingers even without any injury or infection. These may be caused by:
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease in which inflammation is caused by an abnormal attack on the joints by the body’s immune system. This condition frequently causes swelling of the joints of the fingers.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis causes destruction of joints due to degeneration of the cartilages that form the joint surfaces.
- Lymphedema: Obstruction of lymphatic vessels may lead to accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the fingers, causing swelling.
Treatment of Finger Swelling
The exact treatment for swollen fingers is decided by a doctor after diagnosing the cause of the condition. However, there are some common measures that one can take to reduce the inflammation and swelling as a short term measure. These include:
- Application of ice to the swollen area.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain.
- Immobilization of the fingers.
- Removal of rings or other jewelry.