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 messages from the hand and fingers to the spinal cord.
The finger is made up of nerves, bones, blood vessels, muscles and skin. Finger joints are the areas where bones meet and consist of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bursas (fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the joint), and synovial membranes and fluid, which lubricate joints. Any of these structures in the finger can become irritated or inflamed and painful in response to a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders or conditions, such as trauma, infection and inflammation.
Common causes of finger pain include injury or trauma, such as bending your finger backward (hyperextension) or from repetitive use, such as long periods of keyboarding. More serious conditions, such as diabetes or a neck or spinal cord injury, can also cause pain or a burning sensation in your fingers. Sore joints in the fingers may be caused by arthritis, inflammation, and age-related wear and tear. Depending on the cause, your pain may be short term and disappear quickly, or it may develop slowly over weeks or months.
Because finger pain can be a sign of a serious infection or inflammation, you should contact your medical professional about your symptoms. Seek prompt medical care if you have finger pain with swelling, redness, warmth or fever.
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:
Contusion or abrasion
Degloving injury (separation of the skin and top layer of tissue from the finger)
Laceration or blunt force trauma, such as a dog bite
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)
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:
Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Neuroma in the finger
Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord)
Spinal cord injury or tumor
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)
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?
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:
Inability to perform daily tasks
Spread of infection to other tissues
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:
Arm or wrist pain
Bruising or other discoloration
Decreased grip strength
Drainage or pus
Fingernail problems, such as bruising under the nail or detachment of the nail
Lacerations, abrasions, sores or lesions
Lumps or bumps along the finger
Reduced range of motion or movement of a joint
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, finger pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911 or go to an emergency room) if you, or someone you are with, have finger pain along with any of these other symptoms:
High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
Inability to move the finger, wrist or arm
Partial or total amputation of the finger
Red, warm and tender skin or a red streak up the arm