Here we take a look at why stiff fingers may occur, and what you can do to help relieve stiffness, including splinting and specific exercises.
Why do we get stiff fingers?
A stiff proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP joint) can occur from a dislocation or strain to one of the ligaments surrounding the joint. Fingers have three joints, the metacarpophlangeal joint (the big knuckle) the proximal interphalangeal joint (the middle joint) and the distal interphalangeal joint (the end joint).The PIP joint is often injured during ball sports, where a ball strikes the end of the finger causing a jarring effect to the joint and straining of the ligaments.
The joint is surrounded by a ligament on each side called the collateral ligaments and a ligament underneath called the volar plate. As these structures heal they can contract and become scarred and potentially pull the finger down into a flexed position.
A finger that is stuck in a bent position can cause functional issues as well as ongoing pain, stiffness and swelling. Ideally it is best to seek medical attention initially after an injury to ensure adequate treatment and exercises to try to prevent stiffness.
However these injuries can be sneaky and what may seem like a simple strain initially can lead to further problems down the track. It is common for people to present 1-2 months after the injury with a stiff joint. Be assured, a hand therapist can help in multiple ways to regain your motion and strength.
How can your hand therapist help relieve stiff fingers?
Techniques may include splinting with static digit splints made from thermoplastic material, dynamic spring splints or serial casts using plaster of paris. Exercises can help to stretch out the tightened ligaments and strengthen the right muscles to help you straighten your finger.
This may include rolling putty, pulling paper from in between the fingers, and specific blocking exercises. Your therapist will be able to assess your finger and tailor a splinting/exercise program to suit your needs. See below: