How to Choose and Wear a Hand or Finger Support
Typing, texting, tapping, gaming — our tech-centered lives demand a lot of dexterity, which can cause pain and strain in the hands and fingers. Arthritis, sports injuries and other conditions can hurt hands and fingers as well.
In many cases, a brace or support can provide relief. Here, we’ll explain the types of hand and finger supports that are available and the conditions that may be causing your hand or finger pain.
Types of Hand and Finger Braces and Supports
- Thumb splints, also called thumb spica splints, wrap around the hand or forearm and brace the thumb. A thumb splint restricts movement of the metacarpophalangeal and carpometacarpal joints while allowing your fingers to move freely.
- Thumb stabilizers limit motion of the thumb joint while allowing the fingers to move.
- Finger splints immobilize the finger joint. They may have an open, figure-8 design or a traditional closed design.
- Finger sleeves provide mild compression, warmth and support for the finger joints.
- Hand support gloves offer mild support and compression for pain or swelling in the hand and wrist.
- Arthritis gloves also provide gentle compression and warmth for the wrist, hand and fingers.
- A wrist-hand orthosis (WHO) or hand splint supports the fingers, thumb and wrist in a resting position.
Always consult your medical provider for any injury or new pain in the hand or finger. If you try to treat it yourself, your joint may heal incorrectly, or the condition may become permanent.
When buying a brace, make sure it’s sized correctly for your hand or finger. A splint that fits the index finger may not work for the pinky, for instance.
If just one finger has pain or an injury, only brace or splint that finger. If you immobilize your entire hand, the rest of your finger joints may stiffen.
When putting on a finger or thumb brace, make sure it’s snug but not too tight. Your fingers/thumb should not be numb, tingly, cold or discolored.
Conditions That May Require a Hand or Finger Support
Arthritis of the hand or thumb: Arthritis in the hands is a painful condition that involves joint pain and swelling. It can be caused by an old injury, by the age-related wearing of cartilage (osteoarthritis), or by an autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis). Splinting the affected finger or thumb can help relieve symptoms, but isn’t a long-term remedy.
Jammed finger: This common injury is caused by an impact to the end of your finger when it’s extended. Symptoms can include pain and swelling in the finger joint.
Dislocated finger: A finger or thumb dislocation occurs when two bones are forced out of alignment at the joint, usually by an injury or a fall. Symptoms include a crooked or misshapen joint, with swelling, bruising and pain, and inability to bend the finger. Your finger bone may also look out of place. You should always see a healthcare provider if you suspect your finger is dislocated; they’ll reposition the bones in the correct place, then prescribe a finger splint to keep it stable.
Mallet finger or baseball finger: When an object (like a ball) strikes the tip of your finger or thumb and forces it beyond your normal range of motion, that can tear the extensor tendon. An injury to this tendon leaves you unable to fully straighten the finger. Mallet finger should be seen by a healthcare provider, and is typically treated by wearing a splint that holds the finger in place and allows it to heal.
FDP avulsion (jersey finger): This is a tear in the flexor tendon that bends the fingertip down. It’s called “jersey finger” because this injury is often seen in football players who grab an opponent’s jersey. When the opponent pulls away, the finger is forcibly straightened and the tendon injured, leaving the fingertip unable to bend down. Surgery is usually required to repair the tendon.
UCL injuries (skier’s thumb): When the thumb is forcefully bent sideways, away from the hand, that can tear the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). This injury is often seen in skiers, hence its common name. A UCL injury is usually treated with a splint or cast, or with surgery.
Swan neck deformity: This condition occurs when the middle joint of a finger is extended, or bent back more than normal, while the end joint is flexed or bent down. It can be caused by weakness or injury to a ligament on the middle joint of the finger, or the tearing of the tendon that flexes the middle joint. A finger brace or special ring may be worn to help correct the hyperextension of the joint.
Boutonnière deformity: After an injury to the tendon that straightens the middle joint of your finger, the finger may no longer be able to straighten, while the fingertip bends back. This can occur from a hard blow to the finger, or from a cut on the top of the finger. Boutonnière deformity should be treated by a medical provider as soon as possible to prevent it from becoming permanent. Wearing a finger splint can help the tendon heal.
Trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis): If your finger gets stuck or locked in a bent position, then suddenly pops into a straight position, that can be a condition called trigger finger. Symptoms include stiffness in the finger, a popping or clicking when you move the finger, and tenderness or a bump at the base of the affected finger.
Ganglion cyst: A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled lump that forms along the tendons or joints of the wrists or hands and can cause pain or discomfort if it presses on a nerve. Wearing a brace or splint to keep the hand still can help the cyst shrink.
Fractured finger: You can break a bone in your finger by slamming it in a door, falling on your hand, or injuring it another way. Your healthcare provider may place the finger in a splint or cast to hold it in the right position while it heals.
Fractured hand: The most common bone broken in the hand is the fifth metacarpal, which supports the little finger. Often called a “boxer’s fracture,” this fracture can occur when someone punches a hard surface with their fist. You should see a medical provider right away if you think you may have fractured a bone in your hand. A cast or splint can keep your hand correctly positioned while it heals.