What causes finger pain?

The finger consists of nerves, blood vessels, muscles, skin and joints. The hand and finger joints are made up of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bursas (fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint), and synovial membranes and fluid that lubricate the joints. Any of the structures in the finger can become irritated or inflamed in response to a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders or conditions, such as trauma, infection and nerve compression.

Tingling pain in the fingers can be due to compression of the nerves that carry sensation messages from the hand and fingers to the spinal cord. Tingling of both the pinky finger and ring finger together can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm due to problems with the shoulder, elbow or wrist joint. Tingling of the thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger can be due to problems with the median nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, finger pain is a symptom of a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting, such as a broken bone or invasive bacterial infection.

Injury-related causes of finger pain

Finger pain can occur from the following types of injuries:

  • Broken finger or stress fracture

  • Contusion or abrasion

  • Crush injury

  • Degloving injury (separation of the skin and top layer of tissue from the finger)

  • Laceration or blunt force trauma, such as a dog bite

  • Repetitive stress injury

  • Splinter or other foreign body

  • Sprain or strain

Degenerative, infectious and inflammatory causes of finger pain

Finger pain can be associated with inflammatory or infectious conditions including:

  • Age-related wear and tear on the joints and osteoarthritis

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that protects and cushions joints)

  • Cellulitis (invasive skin infection that can spread to the surrounding tissues)

  • Ganglion cyst (benign growth or swelling on top of a joint or tendon)

  • Infection, such as a Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection

  • Paronychia (infection around the nail)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

  • Septic arthritis (infectious arthritis)

Nerve-related causes of finger pain

Finger pain, particularly tingling or numbness in the fingers, may be caused by moderate to serious conditions that compress nerves and can lead to nerve damage including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (compression in the wrist area of the nerve that provides feeling and movement to the palm and thumb side of the hand)

  • Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disc disease in the neck)

  • Herniated disc

  • Neck injury

  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as the ulnar nerve in the arm

Other neurological causes of finger pain

Finger pain can be associated with a variety of other conditions that can affect or damage the nervous system including:

  • Alcoholism

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, lack of coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Neuroma in the finger

  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Other causes of finger pain

Finger pain can be associated with other conditions including:

  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)

  • Circulatory problems (reduced blood flow)

  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures

  • Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon (spasms of small blood vessels of the fingers and toes, reducing blood circulation). Raynaud’s disease is when the cause is not known. Raynaud's phenomenon is secondary to another condition, including many autoimmune disorders such as lupus.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of finger pain

To diagnose the underlying cause of a finger pain, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider diagnose the cause of your finger pain:

  • What is the exact location of the pain?

  • Describe the pain. Is it sharp or dull, tingling or burning? When did it start? How long does it last? Does the pain occur during or after certain activities?

  • Have you had any recent injuries, including exposure to cold or frostbite?

  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as swelling?

  • What is your full medical history? What medications do you take? Do you smoke?

What are the potential complications of finger pain?

Complications associated with finger pain vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder and condition and can be serious. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience persistent pain or other unusual symptoms related to your fingers or hands. Following the treatment plan you and your health care provider develop specifically for you will minimize the risk of complications including:

  • Chronic disability

  • Finger amputation

  • Finger deformity

  • Inability to perform daily tasks

  • Spread of infection to other tissues

References:

  1. Arthritis of the hand. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00224.
  2. Finger Pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003248.htm.
  3. Ulnar nerve entrapment. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00069.
  4. What is Raynaud’s. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/raynaud/.
INTRODUCTION

What is finger pain?

Finger pain includes any kind of discomfort in the tissues or joints of the finger. Finger pain may be described as throbbing, aching, increased warmth, tingling, soreness or stiffness. Burning or prickling sensations in a finger, often called pins and needles, are called paresthesias. Paresthesias are often due to temporary or permanent damage or pressure on the nerves that carry sensation mes... Read more about finger painintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with finger pain?

Other symptoms may occur with finger pain. Additional symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, finger pain due to a serious infection that has spread to the blood may be accompanied by swelling, fever and chills, as well as redness and warmth around the affected area.

Other symptoms that may occur with finger pain include:

... Read more about finger painsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles


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