Finger injuries are quite common and can happen at work, at home, or during leisure hours. A simple injury such as a cut, a tearing injury, or a crushing one, can all lead to the amputation of the finger. Since the fingertips are full of nerves, they are very sensitive, and a fingertip injury or illness can cause a lot of problems with the overall functioning of the hand and can lead to permanent disability or deformity.
Amputation of the finger or a thumb by a surgical procedure is done to remove the part of the finger or a thumb that is irreparably damaged due to a trauma or an illness. The procedure may be performed as a planned operation to prevent the further spreading of the illness to the rest of the fingers and the hand. If the digit has been accidentally cut off from the hand, also known as traumatic amputation, and is not likely to survive if reattached, further amputation may be performed.
In some cases, a finger can be damaged beyond hope by mangling, stiffening, necrosing, or crushing, and in these cases, saving the finger or a fingertip is impossible. Therefore, an amputation may be necessary to preserve as much of the finger and hand as possible.
Reasons for Amputation
Some of the most common reasons for the amputation of the finger are ischemia, or irreversible loss of the blood supply to the digit, various infections, loss of tissue, gangrene, frostbite, or malignancy.
Poor blood circulation. One of the main reasons for finger amputation is poor blood circulation in the affected area. Usually, amputation is the last possible remedy for these problems, but if the situation is irreparable, your doctor may recommend amputation to reduce the risk of further damage to the tissue and bone. Poor circulation damages and narrows the arteries, a condition known as peripheral arterial disease. If the cells of a finger do not receive adequate blood flow, they cannot receive enough nutrients and oxygen they need to function properly, therefore, the affected finger begins to die, which opens the doors for infections and other issues.
Severe injury. Sometimes, an injury can be so severe that the finger simply cannot be saved. One can injure themselves in the vehicle accident while working with power tools, if severely burned, or somehow else. In these cases, if the finger is destroyed beyond hope, the best thing to do is to amputate to avoid further issues the dead tissue may bring.
Cancerous tumor. Malignant tumors of the tissue, muscle, or bone can cause a lot of damage to the remaining fingers, to the hand, and finally, to the whole arm and body. In these cases, amputation is probably the best choice, as the cancer cells tend to spread like wildfire, so it is better to contain the damage to only one finger, opposed to risking the health of other organs and your whole body.
Infection. A serious infection that does not go away even after the use of antibiotics or other medications can lead to the necrosis of the tissue and the deterioration of the finger. If an infection is persistent and impossible to heal, amputation is the final resort which can keep it at bay.
Gangrene. Gangrene is a type of necrosis which is caused by the lack of blood supply to the finger, and it can happen after an infection or a severe injury. In the case of gangrene, cells die, and the amputation is often the only way to get rid of the gangrenous tissue and to prevent the spreading of the disease.
Neuroma. Also known as the thickening of the nerve tissue due to a benign tumor (i.e. no cancerous). Neuromas can be quite painful and cause other issues to appear, and in severe cases, amputation is necessary to avoid further damage to the surrounding nerves.
Frostbites. Frostbites happen when fingers are not properly protected from freezing temperatures. Much like water, your fingers can freeze in very low temperatures. At temperatures at or below 0°C (32 °F) or very harsh winds, your blood vessels which are closest to the skin begin to constrict and blood cannot flow through them anymore. When this happens, because of the lack of blood in the tissue, the finger starts to freeze and die. In third and fourth degree frostbites, the finger turns black and can become gangrenous. If not amputated, the finger may simply fall off on its own.
What to Do?
If you find yourself in one of these situations, the most important thing to do is stay calm as it will keep your heart rate normal and prevent excessive bleeding. No matter the severity of the injury, always make sure to seek immediate medical attention.
If you hurt your finger and let the problem persist, you are increasing the risk of amputation because the infection and other issues can spread and make the problem irreparable. Seeking medical help right away will give you a much higher chance of keeping your finger.
Always clean the injury, as well as you, possibly can. Make sure to cover the wound with a sterile dressing and elevate the finger to stop the bleeding and swelling.
If by any chance you accidentally cut off your finger, clean the amputated part and put it in a sterile container with saline solution. Put the severed finger in a sealed bag and make sure to keep it cold with ice, but do not let the ice touch the finger.