When the Warriors’ Stephen Curry struck the basketball in a recent match, his brief attempt at a steal quickly become something more. Within seconds, he was gritting his teeth in pain and stepping off the court.
He later learned his brief contact with the ball had dislocated his left middle finger. After being treated by medical staff, Curry returned to the game and later told reporters he was thankful he did not break a bone.
Curry experienced a common injury seen by both professional and amateur players. It usually happens when an axial load strikes the finger.
This force can break the bones in the middle of the finger or cause them to slip out of their joints, called a dislocation. Most people call this “jamming” their finger. Doctors call it a “proximal interphalangeal,” or PIP, joint injury.
Most people who break or dislocate a finger would seek emergency care. It’s a painful injury and it can look disturbing. There’s an important decision to be made after emergency care, though. After the bones are put back in their joints and splinted, it might be easy to just let it go. It’s just a finger, right?
That’s a mistake, says Anup Patel, MD, MBA, a hand and plastic surgeon with the Hand to Shoulder Center, a partnership with AdventHealth and Orlando Hand Surgery Associates. Close follow-up is essential after dislocating or breaking a finger joint, Dr. Patel says.
“It’s important to seek care from a hand surgeon, because otherwise it can lead to a long-term problem called a Boutonnière deformity,” Dr. Patel said. People with this condition can’t straighten their finger, and it can be a difficult problem to fix.
Curry’s ‘Interesting Journey’
One of the biggest risks with a finger injury can be ignoring it. Curry joked about downplaying the injury during a conversation with an ESPN personality a few weeks after it happened.
“So catastrophic, right?” he told interviewer Rachel Nichols. “I'm probably not the first person or the last person that will have a dislocated finger. But it's been an interesting journey to say the least."
With a finger dislocation, there’s also a good chance that the bone has broken as well, Dr. Patel says. That’s what Curry first thought when he looked down at his twisted finger.
“It looks terrible, so there has to be something broken in there,” he told Nichols. It wasn’t — the bone was dislocated, and there don’t appear to be many long-term effects.
Besides dealing with the pain and keeping his touch on the ball, Curry said the toughest part of the injury was that it kept him from playing golf on his off days.
It’s not clear what Curry’s follow-up care looked like, but it may have included a visit with a hand surgeon.
Why Go to a Hand Surgeon?
There’s no real way to prevent dislocating or breaking your finger, Dr. Patel said. The important thing is prompt treatment and follow-up.
“It’s wise to go to an emergency department and then to a hand surgeon,” he said. A hand surgeon is best equipped to figure out the exact nature of your dislocation or break, Dr. Patel said.
And seeing a surgeon doesn’t mean you’ll need surgery. You’re likely to get an X-ray and paid-reducing medicine, like Tylenol or Aspirin. But if the joint doesn’t heal correctly, surgery may be an option.
Sometimes jamming a finger is the unavoidable result of going hard at the ball. You may not be able to avoid it. But you can decide to treat it — and yourself — right.
Quick emergency care and a visit with a hand surgeon will help your finger heal, meaning you’re back on the court and ready to play just as hard as before. Exercise is a major part of your whole health, and we want to help you keep doing what you enjoy.
To find a hand surgeon or learn more about upper extremity care, visit our website.