Every time you sip a cup of coffee or type a message on your phone, your fingers work effortlessly to maintain your grip and hit the right key. Unfortunately, as essential as they are to daily tasks, your fingers are constantly at risk of injuries that can lead to amputation.
The fingertips are especially vulnerable since they’re last to escape from harm’s way. Since they’re also rich with nerves and highly sensitive, prompt and effective treatment is critical to prevent future deformity or disability.
The more you know about the fingertip amputation healing process, including alternative treatments like hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the easier your path to recovery will be.
How Fingertip Amputation Happens
There are many situations that may lead to a fingertip amputation.
If your hand ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, one of your fingers may suffer the consequences. Sharp cuts and crushing injuries are an example of traumatic injuries that can all result in serious finger injuries.
You could be chopping vegetables, closing a car door, or trying to stop a dog fight when your finger becomes suddenly and severely harmed. In fact, some research shows that about 61,000 patients are seen in emergency departments in the United States every year for this type of digital amputation.
It’s also possible for a chronic health condition like diabetes or cardiovascular disease to restrict the blood flow to the fingers. Without proper circulation, micro-clots of blood cause ischemia and cut off the blood flow to the fingertips. Since the tip of the finger can’t survive with ongoing oxygen deprivation, amputation becomes necessary to save the rest of the finger and hand.
First Aid Tips for Injured Fingers
Once you do suffer a serious finger injury, proper first aid can increase your chances of a smooth and successful healing process.
If your finger is still intact after your injury, wash out the wound with clean water, if possible, and cover it with a clean, dry dressing to reduce bleeding and prevent infection. Elevate and immobilize your affected hand, then seek medical attention immediately.
If your fingertip is completely detached after your injury, the following procedure offers the best path forward to recovery:
- Carefully clean the amputated portion of fingertip with clean water or sterile saline solution
- Wrap the amputated fingertip in lightly moistened gauze and place it in a watertight bag
- Place the watertight bag in a sealed container of ice to keep it cool, but never allow the amputated finger to come into direct contact with the ice.
- Bring the amputated finger to the emergency room, so a doctor can evaluate treatment options
Replantation is possible in very specific situations, though the likelihood decreases as more time passes between amputation and treatment. These other factors also make it difficult or impossible to reattach an amputation fingertip:
- More than 12 hours have passed since the injury
- The finger was crushed or contaminated through trauma
- The finger injury extends too far down the finger to the base of the hand
Even if replantation isn’t possible, fingertip amputations can still heal well on their own. With proper wound care after surgery, an amputated fingertip can still maintain a good deal of its previous appearance and function, depending on how far down the amputation extends.
What Is the Fingertip Amputation Healing Process?
The fingertip amputation healing process varies depending on the extent of injury. While minor tissue injuries can heal on their own over two to four weeks, larger tissue injuries that require surgical treatment can take weeks or months to heal.
In most cases, the surgeon removes debris from the finger and cuts out any non-viable tissue that’s too damaged to survive. Removing the affected tissue leaves the portion of the finger that is healthy and capable of healing well. After sewing the edges together, a finger stump remains that can usually heal well without infection or other complications.
At the conclusion of your surgery, your doctor will evaluate your health and identify any factors that threaten the success of your healing process. These factors are known as comorbidities, which are chronic conditions that exist at the same time and increase your risk of other complications.
For example, a healthy, young non-smoker will enjoy a much faster and easier recovery than a 74-year-old woman who smokes, is obese, and has high blood pressure. Some patients heal within weeks, while others need months to recover. Your health and lifestyle habits play a major role in your own fingertip amputation healing time!
How to Speed Up Fingertip Amputation Healing
You don’t want to feel injured and disabled a minute longer than necessary. The good news is that you can take steps to speed up fingertip amputation healing and get back to living a normal life.
Aggressive Wound Care
Before anything else, your fingertip amputation requires aggressive wound care to heal. This involves making sure the incision is dry, covered in clean dressing, and free of drainage. Any signs of infection need to be identified and treated as early as possible to prevent complications.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a powerful additional treatment proven to accelerate the healing process after amputation. It saturates the body’s tissues with 100% pure and pressurized oxygen.
Unlike the air we breathe every day, which contains only 21% oxygen, HBOT delivers pure 100% oxygen in a pressurized setting (specifically two atmospheres – which is equivalent to diving down to 33 feet of water). This makes it possible for not only the lungs but all tissues and fluids in the body to absorb more oxygen.
By delivering potent oxygen through the body, HBOT makes it possible for the body to accelerate its own natural healing capabilities through the following mechanisms:
- Enhance white blood cells’ ability to fight infection
- Promote development of new capillaries
- Build new connective tissues
- Improve organ function
Since smoking, diabetes, and other habits and health conditions significantly restrict the blood flow and block the body’s ability to fight infection, HBOT is especially important for amputation patients with such complications and comorbidities.
HBOT is a painless therapy that lasts approximately two hours. You simply lie in a clear, spacious hyperbaric chamber and sleep, listen to music or watch TV as you inhale pure oxygen. It’s a simple, safe, and easy way to support lasting fingertip amputation healing.
R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics is proud to offer powerful hyperbaric oxygen therapy with the latest technology. Contact us today to schedule your appointment at one of our many convenient Texas locations.
Allison Remy started her career in medicine as a Licensed Paramedic and later became a certified Physician Assistant (PA-C). She received her Master’s of Science in Physician Assistant Studies from The University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2007 and has practiced in a variety of fields. She is passionate about wound care and hyperbaric medicine and takes great joy in helping patients heal their wounds in order to restore normalcy to their lives.