My finger began to turn numb shortly after I cut it, and this is my journey to restore sensation to the area.
Restoring Feeling to a Numb Finger Takes Time
If you cut your finger deep enough to require stitches, you likely also lost sensation in that area (typically above the cut). While everyone's recovery differs, you may regain sensation in parts or all of the area after a period of time. There are also certain exercises that can help restore feeling in a numb finger. Unfortunately, for some people, depending on the type of cut and treatment, they may never regain full sensation in the entire area.
How I Cut My Finger
I was slicing a loaf of french bread while talking. Instead of holding it on the cutting board, I carelessly held it in my hand, and sure enough, the bread knife went through my finger along with the bread.
I paused for a second and then screamed. I looked down and thought I saw bone and nearly passed out. Thankfully, I was not home alone and my husband ran over and immediately held my finger under the faucet to try to stop the bleeding.
He isn't bothered by blood and examined the cut. He placed a paper towel over it and told me to hold it firmly; he then ran upstairs for gauze, bandages, and tape. He wrapped and taped my finger as tightly as he could, and I thought that was it.
But soon after, I started to lose sensation in my finger. It first felt tingly, like when your arm or foot falls asleep and sensation begins to return. Then it started to feel numb.
I researched deep finger cuts on the internet and started to self-diagnose myself (I do not recommend this: go to a professional). In one of the articles I found, it said that if you cut through a tendon or certain nerves and have to have surgery, and it should be done within six hours of the cut.
That was enough for me: I asked my husband to drive me to Urgent Care. It was closing in 15 minutes (this happened on a Saturday night) and wasn't open on Sunday, and I wasn't going to lose the six hour window, in case I had cut through a nerve or tendon and needed surgery.
At Urgent Care
We arrived a few minutes before closing, and the receptionist did not seem to have the sense of "urgency" one would expect from an "Urgent" Care facility. After taking my insurance information and credit card, she told me to wait. Did she not realize I might only have six hours?!
I was shown to a room, had my vitals taken, confirmed that I had a recent tetanus shot, and someone came to examine my wound. He carefully unwrapped my bandages, studied the cut, and placed my finger in a bowl of disinfectant. And then he left the room and I waited some more.
Finally the physician came in and removed my finger from the bath. She had me move my finger in a few different directions and bend it. Thankfully, I did not sever the tendon and did not need surgery. It had not stopped bleeding, and she explained that had I not come in tonight, I would have realized that I needed to come in the next morning, as I would still have been bleeding. Because the cut was deep and along the joint, I required stitches. Seven of them.
How to Take Care of Stitches
Before she stitched my finger, she again confirmed that I had had a tetanus shot in the last 5-10 years, then gave the cut a few shots to numb the pain. By that point, I had lost sensation in that area and could not feel the shots or the stitches.
During the First 48 Hours
After she finished stitching the cut, she applied an antibacterial ointment, a gauze pad, and then wrapped my finger firmly in gauze and taped the end. She told me to keep my finger elevated above my heart (to reduce swelling), and asked me to refrain from washing it for 48 hours. If I wanted to take a shower before then, I could place my hand in a plastic bag to keep it dry.
After 48 Hours
After the first 48 hours, she said I should remove the dressing, wash the stitches and wound gently, lightly pat dry, apply Neosporin, place a clean gauze pad (she gave me several large Curad pads, which I cut to fit the wound), and then wrap gently (and not too firmly) with a gauze roll. I couldn't find the exact gauze roll that the doctor used, so I purchased a Johnson & Johnson one that gripped itself. I didn't use very much of it, as it was thicker and stiffer—it actually kept me from accidentally bending my finger and ripping the stitches out—than the gauze roll the doctor used. I only wrapped my finger twice around before cutting and taping the roll.
Continue for 10 Days
She said I should do this every 24 hours for the next 10 days, at which point I should return to have the stitches removed. I dutifully did all of the above, as I wanted to heal properly. There were a few moments where I thought I might have pulled some of the stitches, where I moved my hand or fingers in a way that caused strain. When I unrolled the gauze and peeked under the bandage, thankfully the stitches were in place, and there was no blood.
After 10 days, I returned to Urgent Care, and the same physician said that the wound had healed enough that she could remove the stitches. Unfortunately, she did not give me any shots before removing the stitches, and the wound had begun to heal, so I could feel the stitches being removed. It was not terribly painful, just a bit of uncomfortable. I was thrilled that I was able to have feeling and sensation in that part of my finger.
Caring for Wound After Stitches Removed
Once the stitches were removed, the doctor explained that I should continue to apply Neosporin while the external wound healed, as well as sunscreen, so that the scar would be less visible. I also began to apply Mederma, a scar reducing gel, according to the instructions (several times a day) and then covered the area with a bandage.
The doctor indicated that I didn't have to wear a band-aid and that I should let the wound be exposed while it healed. I continued to use a band-aid at night though, so that I wouldn't rub off the Neosporin and Mederma while I slept.
Restoring Feeling in Finger After Stitches Removed
The doctor explained that my finger would likely feel numb for months, and that I may not fully regain sensation in the entire finger. She told me to hold my finger straight up and then slowly bend the tip towards my knuckles, and to do 10 repetitions a day.
It has been over four months since my stitches were removed, and I continue to do those finger exercises each day, though I do more than 10 repetitions and bend the finger more quickly now.
When the stitches were first removed, my finger began to swell, so I tried to keep it elevated and above my heart. It would start to throb and tingle, and holding it firmly with my other hand helped. Unfortunately, I think I held it too firmly once, as I felt a rush of warmth running up the length of the finger. In hindsight, I think I loosened the internal blood clot and created scar tissue internally, as that is the area that remains numb today.
Sensation in my finger has been improving in very small increments. When I think back to how numb my finger felt right after the stitches were removed and compare it to now, over four months later, the difference is significant. On a daily basis, the changes were so small that I couldn't always confirm progress. But there would be milestone days with a noticeable difference: the tip of my finger all of a sudden felt normal, whereas the night before it had felt slightly numb. I would notice these types of changes after a good night's sleep and when I was drinking lots of water, eating healthy, and taking vitamins (multi-vitamin, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Stress-B Vitamin Complex).
Scar Tissue Massage to Restore Feeling in Numb Finger
Finger Massage Exercise to Restore Sensation
I read that nerves grow about 1 mm per day, so it can take a long time for the nerve endings to reconnect to restore sensation and feeling to a numb finger, depending on the size of the area. In my experience, that 1 mm is in all directions, so my numb patch keeps getting smaller and smaller and less deep.
The doctor also told me that there would be a hard ridge of scar tissue that forms along the cut. That area is raised, and I wanted to soften the scar tissue.
I came across a YouTube video explaining how to massage scar tissue, and I do these massage exercises several times a day. Not only do the massage exercises help soften the scar tissue, but also they are helping to restore feeling in the numb areas of my finger.
Massaging the Wound Also Helped Restore Feeling
The scar massage techniques from the video began to work almost immediately. I was doing the circular massage technique, the roll, pulling and stretching the scar area to loosen the tendons and scar tissue, and pinching the scar area together. I believe all of these techniques were helping to restore feeling, as I was doing them not only on the scar but also the entire numb area.
One day, however, the numb area on my finger felt like it was getting harder and almost callous. The skin in the numb area feels different, and when I was trying to tear a piece of tape from a roll, the tape stuck to that part of the finger. I decided to try massaging the area with something other than my fingers/hands and found a leg massager. I rolled the plastic wheels over the area, and as I rolled a bit harder, the area began to tingle a bit and swell. Perhaps I had improved circulation to that part of my finger.
I added the massager tool to my daily scar massage routine, and the skin on the numb area feels softer after I finish. I typically do this towards the end of the day or right before bed.
Update: One Year Later
April 20, 2020 marks one year since I cut my finger. I have been following the daily routine: finger exercises and massaging with both my finger and the roller, and I have restored 90-95% of sensation in the area. Each day the scar tissue feels softer, and the numb area continues to shrink and become more shallow.
I added one step to the regimen about a month ago: arnica gel, which has helped reduce black and blue marks. After having blood drawn for my annual physical, I rubbed arnica gel that evening to reduce bruising and had extra on my finger, so I rubbed it into the scar and numb area. The next morning, my finger had regained more sensation than normal. So I have been rubbing arnica gel in every night before going to bed, and the improvement in sensation has been greater in the past month than in the past prior few months. I will continue to monitor and provide periodic updates.
Arnica Gel Update: Do NOT use daily!
My finger started to feel numb a few days after I added the one-year update, so I did more research on arnica gel and found an article that said it should not be used daily. I discontinued using it over a week ago and can report that the numbness subsided, and I continue to regain sensation. I may apply arnica gel once every few weeks going forward.
Using the massage roller along the numb areas seems to be the most effective treatment at this time. It helps to soften the scar, and the numb area tingles for a few seconds after I stop rolling.
Update: Two Years Later
The two year anniversary of my accident has come and gone, and while there is a bit more sensation, I still have some areas of numbness. A few lessons learned:
- My one-year anniversary update, where I stated that I had regained 90-95% of sensation, was probably more like 80-85% of full sensation. I think I have 10-15% of some sensation now, and 5-10% of no sensation. This is somewhat disappointing; I had really hoped I would regain full sensation in all areas by now.
- The internal scar tissue will stretch, but the surface skin will still feel different. I had hoped that as sensation returned, the surface skin would return to "normal," but it hasn't. When I tear off a piece of scotch tape, it will stick to the skin above the internal scar tissue.
- The articles saying that you should expect a millimeter of improvement each month may be overly optimistic. I have continued to stretch my finger, massage the scar, and apply Neosporin, Mederma, and/or Arnica Gel, and I don't know if my finger will ever regain full sensation in all areas. It has been a slow process.
- I found an article that suggested there won't be much more improvement after the first two years. I'm hoping that's not correct and will post another update after the third anniversary. I'm going to continue stretching and massaging the scar, especially the areas that still feel puffy and have no sensation.
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.
© 2019 Delia Egan Schaffner