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A Severed Flexor Tendon in the Pinky Finger: My Story

Little did I know that when a light bulb burst in my hand while I was attempting to change it, I would lose the tendon in my pinky finger.

How I Severed My Tendon

Little did I know that the day a light bulb burst in my hand while I was attempting to change it, I would lose the tendon in my pinky finger. The amount of blood and the numbness that occurred made me go quickly to a nearby Patient First. There, they treated my cut as a minor injury that merely required steri-strips. Steri-strips, also known as butterfly stitches, are thin adhesive strips used to close small wounds.

A week later, I was unable to bend my pinky finger at all, and I also had severe pain shooting through my hand and forearm. I decided it was time to see my general physician. One x-ray later, I was deemed okay—and no treatment was prescribed.

A few more weeks went by, and now the pain in my fingers, hand, and arm had reached disturbing levels. I began searching for a hand specialist.

Later, I would wish I had been referred to a specialist at the outset. The specialist took six x-rays and determined that my pinky tendon had been completely severed and had fully retracted, now making surgery a very unlikely successful option. Well, it's just a pinky, I thought, but by now, the continuous pain was affecting my entire limb from the elbow down. The specialist scheduled me for hand therapy and an anti-inflammatory, which would follow for several weeks.

Before this injury, I had no idea the hand was such a complex part of the human body. More than half of the 206 bones in the adult body are located in the hands and feet. The hands alone contain 54 bones in them. The multitude of tendons, muscles, and nerves is a clever mass of entanglement. The arm and hand pain I was feeling makes sense when seeing how the tendons are connected, going to the tip of each finger.

Hand tendons

Hand tendons

Finger Tendons Explained

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains the finger tendons this way:

"The muscles that move the fingers and thumb are located in the forearm. Long tendons extend from these muscles through the wrist and attach to the small bones of the fingers and thumb. The tendons on the top of the hand straighten the fingers. These are known as extensor tendons. The tendons on the palm side bend the fingers. These are known as the flexor tendons. When you bend or straighten your finger, the flexor tendons slide through snug tunnels, called tendon sheaths, that keep the tendons in place next to the bones."

The underside of the hand is an easy target for injury, "Because flexor tendons are very close to the surface of the skin, a deep cut will most likely hit a flexor tendon. In these cases, the tendon is often cut into two pieces. Like a rubber band, tendons are under tension as they connect the muscle to the bone. If a tendon is torn or cut, the ends of the tendon will pull far apart, making it impossible for the tendon to heal on its own. Because the nerves to the fingers are also very close to the tendons, a cut may damage them, as well. This will result in numbness on one or both sides of the finger. If blood vessels are also cut, the finger may have no blood supply. This requires immediate surgery." It seems likely that a nerve was damaged as well.

Results of Therapy

While I will never be able to bend my pinky again, hand therapy helped a great deal to lessen the pain and stop avoiding the use of my left hand. Because the finger was not being used, scar tissue built up, inflammation occurred, and the pain caused avoidance of use. This would have continued and could still reoccur, but for now, things are looking good.

The screws are turned to put the finger in a bent position to keep the finger from stiffening completely. Ideally, it would be best to use this twice a day for about 20 minutes. The Voltaren gel below is used in conjunction with this device.

The screws are turned to put the finger in a bent position to keep the finger from stiffening completely. Ideally, it would be best to use this twice a day for about 20 minutes. The Voltaren gel below is used in conjunction with this device.

Ways a Pinky Injury Can Affect You

I was surprised by the impact the pinky injury had on my daily activities. Because I am unable to bend it without the use of the finger next to it, which now automatically pushes it down when needed (an adapted behavior), it can easily get caught on things. So, I am cautious when using my hands. I mostly notice it when I am typing, gardening, and crocheting. Also, I am unable to lift items with any weight using my left hand alone. I cannot make a fist, as the pinky will not bend, even when pushed, more than about 60 degrees, as measured by my hand therapist.

I urge you to be careful with your hands. They are much easier to injure than you may think. Wear gloves when doing work that could put your hands at risk. And if you have suffered from a hand injury, I would highly recommend seeing a hand therapist.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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Audrey Surma (author) from Virginia on February 17, 2017:

Fray, thanks for sharing your story and for the information about having my pinky fixed. At this point, I have become very accustomed to it. If it was a simple procedure, I would definitely have it repaired, but I am not experiencing any pain and I am able to avoid hurting it more with the adaptations I have made. I have to say though, it looks very different from my other pinky, much thinner and fragile-looking. It is alarming that an injury like ours wouldn't be a more precise diagnosis. I never went back to tell the doctors I had seen before about the mistake they made - they don't even know. I would be interested to hear about your results after surgery. Best wishes!

Fray on February 16, 2017:

I had basically the same thing happen- cut my pinky finger on my dominant hand and doctors kept dismissing my lack of motion till I learned to live with it. Pinky stuck out but could bend at middle joint with help from my ring finger.

Except I didn't get to see a specialist till recently, 6 years after that first injury, when I partially tore another tendon in the same finger as a direct result of the first injury no less. I was startled and got up from the couch so quickly I forgot to align my pinky with the rest of my hand and bent it backwards at the middle joint. Not only did the fact that it stuck our contribute, the injury was worse due to lack of stability from losing the first tendon. I've been in pain for a couple of months from my middle joint all the way down into my elbow again.

I'm currently in a splint waiting for that tendon to heal. While I had that looked at my hand surgeon also assessed the first injury. Same as you, the original flexor I severed has retreated out. However he feels confident that once the more recent injury heals he can do a two stage graft to fix the previous injury. It's not a guarantee but the success rates are high. I've spoken to several people who have done it late and they've gotten 50-80% strength and motion back.

I don't know if it's something you'd be interested in because it's a long process requiring two surgeries but if he thinks he can do it on me after 6 years I imagine your chances might be better so I thought I'd mention it.

I also want to add how startled I am at how many stories I have found similar to ours. I am lucky that the general practitioner I saw for my second injury insisted I go to the ER and demand a specialist, but even the doctor I saw there put me in the wrong splint, and of the doctor who followed up with me before I finally saw the surgeon put me in a different splint that was also the wrong one.

Luckily my surgeon has a great reputation for his work on hands. When I finally saw him a week later he was enraged that that I wasn't referred to him during my first injury, and they hadn't called him immediately either time, or used the right splint this time around. It seems like it's a problem he's been having with them for a while.

I guess the lesson is that even though you should be able to trust your GP if they tell you nothing can be done you should always insist to see a specialist.

Audrey Surma (author) from Virginia on November 25, 2015:

Curious, I did not seek any compensation from doctors who misdiagnosed my problem. That was never a thought...

Audrey Surma (author) from Virginia on November 25, 2015:

Sorry I did not see your comment earlier. I imagine you are still experiencing pain. Based on my experience, I would highly recommend seeing a physical therapist who deals with hand injuries. Because of scar tissue build up, you need the help of physician in dealing with mobility. I was amazed at the difference. I have absolutely no pain from my injury after seeing a hand therapist for a month and continuing exercises at home for another month, then as needed for a few more months.

Cassandra on November 01, 2015:

Same thing happened to me a couple months ago after I cut my finger with a knife. I have felt so ridiculous, complaining about my little ole pinky but it seriously has given me so much pain. My entire hand and forearm aches on a constant basis. My pcp referred me to a hand specialist..He said that surgery at this point would be difficult and he couldn't promise me a good outcome. So..he told me to take something for the inflammation and that is it. He did mention that he could fuse my pinky at the tip, so that it is bent inward a bit. Said it would help some since I keep getting it caught and stubbed up on things. Not sure what I will do.

Audrey Surma (author) from Virginia on November 17, 2012:

Jacob, thanks for sharing your story. My pinky remains very straight, and is not in a bent position unless I make it that way. I have learned to adapt to that, and can do all the activities I did before, just differently, like you said. I no longer have the pain I was experiencing - Yeah! That was my biggest concern, as it was a constant type of throbbing pain throughout my forearm. Physical therapy is a wonderful thing - that is what made the difference for me. Thank you to all the Physical Therapists out there - you work wonders!!!

Jacob on November 16, 2012:

Almost the exact same thing happened to me but in my case with my right hand. Mine happened over a little over 3 years ago. I to went to a Doctor who had no idea what was wrong with me and treated me for a minor cut. I play just about every sport, my main sport being golf so as you can imagine while injured for a few months every time I attempted to play something I experienced great difficulties so decided to see a hand specialist. He was very upset it took me so long to come in (a little over 3 months) but immediately got me in for surgery. I had a wrist graph due to all of the scarring and the amount of time it was about a 50 percent success. My finger is now basically locked into the position yours is in the picture on here. The reason I want to write this is to let you know it does get better very slowly. I'm back to playing golf daily and very actively use my hand again with little pain though it is very "different". It truly is an injury that catches you off guard I mean both out initial doctors didn't even know how to diagnose us... Good luck with your recovery and if you're like me you can use it as an awakening for you to just how valuable health is and you can improve your life because of it.

Curious on March 24, 2012:

What happened next? Did you seek legal council against your primary care and the medical aid unit you went to initially?

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