What is the Care for Fingers Shut in a Car Door?

At some point in life, most people experience the shock of slamming their fingers in a car door--and the surging pain that follows. Although severely wounded fingers may require medical attention, you can typically treat this condition at home with simple first-aid procedures. Properly caring for your smashed fingers will minimize your discomfort and pave the way for a fast recovery 1.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Immediate Treatment

To reduce pain and swelling, apply an ice pack to the affected area and keep your hand raised above the level of your heart. Continue applying ice for up to 20 minutes at a time, removing the pack whenever numbness sets in. If ice is not available, soak your fingers in cold water to achieve the same effect. For additional relief, take over-the-counter medications such as:

  • ibuprofen
  • which calms inflammation
  • or acetaminophen
  • which subdues pain
  • throbbing

Draining Blood

In many cases, smashing your fingers results in subungual hematoma, where blood pools beneath the nail surface and causes uncomfortable throbbing. If this occurs, consult a physician to drain the trapped blood. The draining procedure, known as nail trephination, involves piercing the afflicted nail to create a hole through which blood can discharge. If you wait longer than 36 hours to undergo nail trephination, the procedure may not be effective because the trapped blood will have coagulated. Your nail may continue to seep blood for up to three days after trephination. Follow any additional instructions your physician provides, such as applying disinfecting ointment to keep the pierced area clean.

Long-Term Care

Your smashed fingers may continue to ache for a number of days following the accident 1. To avoid further injury and pain, keep your fingers wrapped in gauze, and don't use a splint unless your doctor advises you to. If your injury resulted in a fracture or stitches, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection; always closely follow instructions for dosage and length of treatment.

Nails that face severe trauma may fall off after a period of days or weeks. If this occurs, keep the exposed nail beds clean. Depending on your age and diet, it will take approximately six months for your nails to grow back to their original length.

In some cases, nails turn partially or entirely black from dried blood beneath the surface. The discoloration is harmless and does not indicate a need for further treatment, but you may choose to apply nail polish or bandages for aesthetic purposes.