Treating a Cut Finger Injury, and When to See a Doctor

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Of all the types of finger injuries, a finger cut or scrape may be the most common type of finger injury in children.

This type of injury can happen quickly, too. When the skin of a finger breaks and the blood starts to escape, knowing how to respond is the key to making sure the cut heals safely.

Many cuts can be easily treated at home. But if it’s deep or long, see a healthcare provider to decide whether stitches are necessary.

In general, a cut that’s wide enough so the edges can’t be easily pushed together will need stitches.

Taking a moment to examine the injury and clean it if necessary will help you decide whether a trip to the emergency room (ER) is needed.

How to treat a cut finger

You can often treat a minor cut at home by cleaning the wound and covering it. Follow these steps to properly care for your injury:

  1. Clean the wound. Gently clean the cut by wiping away blood or dirt with little water and diluted antibacterial liquid soap.
  2. Treat with antibiotic ointment. Carefully apply an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic cream, such as bacitracin, to minor cuts. If the cut is deep or wide, go to the ER.
  3. Cover the wound. Cover the cut with an adhesive dressing or other sterile, compressive dressing. Don’t wrap the finger too tightly so that blood flow is completely cut off.
  4. Elevate the finger. Try to keep the injured figure above your heart as much as possible until the bleeding stops.
  5. Apply pressure. Hold a clean cloth or bandage securely around the finger. Gentle pressure in addition to elevation may be needed to stop the bleeding.

Complications and precautions

A minor cut that’s cleaned and covered quickly should heal properly. Larger or deeper cuts may take longer. They’re also more susceptible to certain complications.

Infection

If the finger becomes infected, see a healthcare provider as soon as you can. More treatment, including antibiotics, may be necessary.

Signs of an infected cut include:

  • area around the cut is redder, or streaks of red appear near the wound
  • finger continues to swell 48 hours after the injury
  • pus forms around the cut or scab
  • pain continues to worsen each day after the injury

Bleeding

A cut that continues to bleed after elevating the hand and applying pressure could be a sign that a blood vessel was harmed. It could also be a sign of a bleeding disorder or a side effect of taking medications, such as blood thinners, for a heart condition.

When to seek emergency help

Some finger cuts require medical treatment like stitches. If you believe the cut is more serious than can be effectively treated at home, go to an ER or urgent care. Doing so can reduce the odds of complications.

A cut finger injury is a medical emergency if:

  • The cut reveals deep layers of skin, subcutaneous fat, or bone.
  • The edges of the cut can’t be gently squeezed together because of swelling or the size of the wound.
  • The cut is across a joint, having possibly injured ligaments, tendons, or nerves.
  • The laceration continues to bleed for more than 20 minutes, or it simply won’t stop bleeding with elevation and pressure.
  • There’s a foreign object, like a piece of glass, inside the wound. (If this is the case, leave it alone until a healthcare provider can examine it.)
Medical emergencyIf the cut is so severe that there’s a risk of a severed finger, go to the ER as quickly as possible. If part of the finger has actually been cut off, try to clean the severed portion and wrap it in a moistened, sterile cloth. Bring it to the ER in a plastic, waterproof bag placed on ice, if possible.

Medical treatment for a deeper cut

When you arrive at the ER, urgent care clinic, or doctor’s office, a healthcare provider will examine the wound and ask you for a quick medical history and list of symptoms.

Treatment will usually begin with a procedure known as debridement. This is the cleaning of the wound and removal of dead tissue and contaminants.

Stitches often treat deep or wide cuts. For slightly smaller cuts, your healthcare provider may use strong, sterile adhesive strips called Steri-Strips.

If stitches are needed, your healthcare provider will only put in as many as needed to properly close the wound. For a finger cut, this may mean two or three stitches.

If there’s been a lot of skin damage, you may need a skin graft. This is a surgical procedure that involves the use of healthy skin taken from elsewhere on the body to cover the wound. The skin graft is kept in place with stitches while it heals.

If you haven’t had a recent tetanus shot, you may be given one at the time your wound is being treated.

Depending on the severity of the wound and your pain tolerance, your healthcare provider may prescribe pain relievers or recommend you take OTC medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Take either type of pain reliever in the first day or two after the injury occurs.

Finger cut aftercare

If you’ve treated a finger cut at home and there are no signs of infection or bleeding problems, you can let healing take its course. Check the injury and change the dressing twice a day, or more often if it gets wet or dirty.

If the cut isn’t starting to heal within 24 hours or showing signs of infection, get medical help soon.

If the cut is healing well after a couple of days, you can remove the dressing. Try to keep the area as clean as possible until the cut is completely healed.

Your healthcare provider may advise you to wear a short splint on the affected finger to help keep it from moving or bending too much. Too much movement can delay the healing of the lacerated skin.

Healing from a cut finger

A minor cut may need only a few days to heal. In some cases, it could take two to four weeks for the injury to completely heal.

To avoid stiffness and preserve finger muscle strength, your healthcare provider may recommend some range-of-motion exercises and activities, such as pinching and grasping, once the healing process is underway.

Larger or deeper wounds that required surgery can take six to eight weeks to heal. Longer recovery times may be necessary if tendons or nerves were damaged.

Follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider will be needed to make sure the wound is healing properly.

All wounds leave some kind of scar. You may be able to reduce the appearance of a scar on your finger by keeping the wound clean and applying clean dressing often.

The use of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or essential oils in a carrier oil may help keep scarring to a minimum, too.

Takeaway

A cut finger injury can happen quickly and without warning. To help preserve the use of your finger, it’s crucial to clean the wound and treat it.

In the event of a larger cut, a trip to the ER or an urgent care clinic for prompt treatment may help you avoid some unpleasant and painful complications. It also ensures the health and appearance of your finger.

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