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Accidents while chopping food can cause serious finger cuts.
Your hands are exposed to potential dangers as you perform daily tasks, making your fingers susceptible to a variety of injuries. Finger cuts are often minor and usually heal without complications. However, numbness in a cut finger signifies that a nerve has been damaged. This is a serious situation that requires urgent medical attention to prevent long-term consequences.
Anatomy and Symptoms
Nerves in the fingers give sensation to the overlying skin, including the ability to tell the difference between hot and cold. Nerves that are 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter -- about the thickness of a dollar coin -- run on each side of the finger. These nerves can be injured with cuts anywhere along the length of the finger. Numbness occurs on the same side of the finger as the cut. The finger will still be able to move unless a tendon has also been injured.
Finger nerves that have been cut require surgical repair. Using a magnifying scope, the surgeon sews the outer sheath of the nerve back together. Nerves that are cut by a sharp object leave clean edges, making repair easier. Ideally, a severed nerve is diagnosed early before the ends tighten and move apart.
A cut finger nerve can be missed immediately following the injury. The cut may be stitched closed in the emergency room before numbness is recognized. As pain decreases, numbness can become more obvious and requires a visit to a hand surgeon.
The finger is splinted in a slightly bent position after surgery, typically for 3 weeks. This prevents the nerve from retearing or stretching at the repair site. Once the initial trauma of the injury subsides, nerve growth into the area beyond the cut occurs at a rate of approximately 1 millimeter per day. This means that it can take several weeks or months to determine if a nerve repair has been successful. Caution must be taken to avoid reinjury to the finger until sensation has returned.
Hand therapy is often provided by a specialized occupational or physical therapist after a finger nerve repair. Early treatment includes exercises to keep the uninvolved fingers moving, as well as scar management once the incision heals. After the splint is removed, range of motion exercises are prescribed to improve movement of the injured finger. Activities are performed to improve fine motor skills and strengthen the finger. Testing is performed every few visits to monitor nerve recovery. Pressure is applied to the finger with fine hairs, called monofilaments, of different diameters to see which size can be felt with the eyes closed. As a nerve heals, smaller monofilaments can be detected.
Finger nerve cuts that are not repaired can lead to the development of a neuroma, a painful nodule that may significantly impair function. The growth represents a ball of nerve tissue. Surgery is sometimes performed to remove a neuroma, or the growth may be injected with cortisone. However, these treatments are not always successful.