Bruised knuckle

Your knuckles are strong bones in your hand that give your fingers the ability to move. But they’re also capable of being broken or bruised.

Bruised knuckles are often caused from blunt trauma to your finger or hand. A hard fall, sports injury, or a fistfight can also cause this injury. This trauma causes your knuckle to swell and bleed under the skin, though there are no broken bones.

In milder cases, a bruised knuckle can take days to heal. If severe, it could take weeks. Left untreated, a bruised knuckle could limit the mobility of your hand and increase the risk of developing a more serious injury.

What are the symptoms?

The initial symptom of a bruised knuckle is immediate pain following the injury. You may experience pain on the knuckle bone, but also on the surrounding sides of the affected finger. The severity of your pain depends on the severity of your injury.

Other symptoms you experience include:

Knuckle pain and associated symptoms are typically localized to the affected joint and finger. However, in more severe cases, pain and swelling can spread to your other fingers.

Other severe symptoms you may experience include:

If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve after a few days, seek immediate medical attention. This could be indication of a broken bone or more serious medical issues.

What are the causes?

Bruised knuckles are often the result of trauma or a direct blow to your hand or finger joint. You can also bruise your knuckle after a bad fall or twisting your finger. The most vulnerable knuckle is below your little finger.

You may be more likely to bruise your knuckle if you:

  • are involved in a fight
  • participate in direct sports, such as football, boxing, or martial arts
  • have a job that requires extensive physical activity

Bruised knuckles may also be indication of a more serious issue. Some medical conditions linked to joint and knuckle pain include:

How to treat bruised knuckles

Treatment depends on the severity of your knuckle bruise and the underlying cause. Before your doctor recommends treatment, they may take an X-ray to rule out fractures, broken bones, or fluid buildup.

If your bruise is minor, your doctor may recommend rest and over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and swelling. They may also advise you to apply a cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce swelling. Elevating your hand can help reduce swelling as well.

In more serious cases, you may have to wear a splint and limit your physical activity until your bruise heals. Depending on the extent of your injury, physiotherapy may be required to improve your mobility and relieve pain.

If you have a broken knuckle or fracture, surgery may be recommended. You and your doctor can discuss your options and any concerns.

When to see a doctor

Bruised knuckles can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully heal. Pain and swelling are normal. If your symptoms don’t improve or begin to worsen, this could be indication of a more serious issue.

Seek prompt medical attention if:

  • swelling increases
  • your hand goes numb
  • the hand or fingers change color
  • you lose mobility in your fingers

What’s the outlook?

Bruised knuckles occur from a direct blow to your joint. In many cases, you can treat this injury at home.

However, if you begin to experience worsening symptoms after a few days, this could be a sign of a broken bone or fracture. Schedule a visit with your doctor after developing a knuckle or bone bruise to rule out more serious injuries.