How to Recover From Volleyball Finger Injuries [13 Tips You Really Should Know]
Updated: May 8, 2019
It’s one of the most frustrating (and sadly, inevitable) parts of volleyball:
What are some common volleyball finger injuries? [And how do you fix them?] The most common finger injuries in volleyball are sprains, splits and broken bones, usually from blocking or defensive plays. Finger sprains come in 3 degrees of severity, with the 2nd and 3rd degrees keeping you out of the game for a few weeks. Jammed or jarred fingers can be less severe, but may also result in a sprain if you take a particularly bad hit.
Volleyball finger injuries can vary in severity, but there are a few hacks I’ve learned over the course of my professional career that have helped me get back on the court sooner:
Without doing any long-term damage.
Before giving you guys my 13 Tips, I’ll share a quick horror story…
One that could have been avoided, but shows how unfortunate some of these finger-jamming episodes can be.
We were warming up for a friendly college match, and one of my teammates was dunking volleyballs on the basketball court to stay warm.
Suddenly, a scream, and Connor (my teammate) is walking away from the basket holding his finger tightly with the other hand.
We didn’t know it at the time, but he was basically holding it from falling off.
He’d jammed his finger between the rim and ball:
Nearly severing his finger at the second joint…
Finger jamming stories in volleyball don’t need to be so dramatic (or gruesome), but they’re almost always when you least expect it.
In the story above, we were just leading into an important conference game which, no surprise, Connor would have to miss from injury.
In this post, we’ll look at:
Some common finger and hand injuries in volleyball;
How they happen;
How to avoid them;
And then I’ll give you my 13 tips for how to get back out on the court sooner, if disaster does happen to strike.
So be sure to scroll through to the bottom before leaving:
Even if it’s just to check out those 13 Tips.
What are the most common volleyball finger injuries?
We’ll go in order of seriousness.
From least serious to most serious:
Sprained finger or thumb (1st degree sprain)
Torn ligament (2nd & 3rd degree sprains). And
Fractures and Broken bones.
Unfortunately, all of these are actually pretty common in volleyball:
Common enough that I’ve seen them all happen first hand, and the common trend?
No one ever sees them coming.
*Now would also be a good time to remind you that I am not a doctor. Any advice given in this post is from my own personal experience as a professional athlete and coach--and while I have found that these tips have helped me and many of my teammates, I also know that each person is different, and that not everyone will respond to injury in the same way.
In future, the team at Volley-Pedia will begin working with medical experts to consult on these topics, so stay posted for updates as relevant information comes in!
#1: Split Fingertips
Okay, this one is slightly easier to get ahead of.
For those who don’t know, I’d recommend reading my short post on Why Volleyball Players Wear Tape on Their Fingers.
In that post, I walk you through not only how split fingertips can happen when you play volleyball on a regular basis, but I show you step-by-step how to tape your fingers to prevent those nasty cracks from growing.
For a quick summary: Split fingertips in volleyball can happen when your skin becomes excessively dry.
In cold gyms, this is more likely to happen than in hot or humid climates, and the result is a painful crack or ‘split’ in the tips or pads of your fingers.
This is by far the most common volleyball finger injury, but thankfully--there are plenty of ways to treat and to prevent it from happening.
(More on that in the 13 Tips below)
#2: Jarred or Jammed fingers
Unlike Connor’s horror story above, jamming your finger in volleyball is unlikely to take you out of the game for 6-8 weeks.
In fact, over the course of a month, it’s almost normal that you’ll take a block at the wrong angle, make an awkward defensive play, or bang your hand on a teammate:
Any of which can lead to the annoying and painfully jammed finger.
While jarred or jammed fingers aren’t typically very serious, it can be hard to tell at first.
In those initial moments, it can feel like you’ll never be able to move your pinky finger again…
But after 15 minutes or so, if the pain starts to die down and you can comfortably move the finger (with some pain, to be sure), it’s likely that you haven’t done anything too serious.
Of course, it’s at this stage that you’ll want to lean on the safe rather than sorry approach:
Sit out for the rest of the practice if you’re not sure--your coach will be more upset when you miss 4 weeks for playing on a sprained finger than they will be for missing a Thursday night practice.
#3: Sprained Finger or Thumb (1st degree sprain)
Sprains are incredibly common, but not all are created equal.
In fact, there are 3 official categories of sprains that are worth mentioning.
What is a sprained finger?
A sprained finger (or any sprain) occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn.
In your fingers, there are several of these ligaments:
“Ligaments are the bands of tissue that connect joints together. - Healthline (https://www.healthline.com/health/sprained-finger)”
First degree sprains are the least severe of these, and can occur quite frequently while blocking or playing defense.
Usually, a first degree sprain will mean that the ligament has been stretched beyond comfort, but it won’t be torn.
Signs of a 1st degree sprain:
Some swelling around the joint; and
Slight difficulty extending or bending the finger (or you’ll feel some pain while doing so).
#4: Torn Ligaments (2nd and 3rd Degree Sprains)
These are a little nastier than the first degree sprains, and can really set you back.
In fact, most of the tips I’m about to share with you will be cut short at this stage of injury.
Realistically, if you think you have a 2nd or 3rd degree sprain, you’re going to need to give your body some time to recover.
So what defines a second or third degree sprained finger?
Second degree sprains are also classified as moderate sprains, and they’re basically a more intense version of the first degree sprain.
Except that instead of merely stretching the ligament, you will have created a partial tear.
Signs of a Second Degree Finger Sprain in volleyball:
Sharp pain around the joint;
Difficult moving the entire finger;
More swelling throughout the finger.
Third degree sprain:
These are the most severe and usually mean that you have torn the ligament badly.
If this is the case, you’ll know that something is wrong immediately.
Since the ligament has torn, it’s also possible for these sprains that the finger might dislocate and move out of place.
Signs of a third degree sprain:
Naturally, you’ll see some quick swelling;
A whole lot of pain.
#5: Fractures and broken bones
If you’ve taken a particularly bad hit, but think it might be just a sprain:
Keep a close eye on it over the next 3-5 days.
If the swelling doesn’t go down, pain remains constant and you still have no range of motion in the finger, it will be a good idea to see a doctor.
After running the basic range of motion tests, they may order an x-ray to check for fractures and signs of a break.
If that’s the case, you can expect a longer recovery period and a cast or solid splint to keep the finger in place.
Unfortunately, we can’t really give you any more advice on this topic--while there might be some tips and tricks that athletes use to find out if the bone is broken, we would really prefer recommending that you go and see a medical professional to make the call.
What we will say is that one of the best things you can do is to get yourself a decent finger brace at almost any stage of this progression. I used to be someone who held a 'walk it off' approach to injuries, but I know that this can end up doing more harm in the long run.
Seriously, if you find yourself with a weak sprain or even just a particularly painful jam, I'd highly recommend investing in a solid medical finger brace. It'll make sure you don't move the joint in ways that it shouldn't go, and it can save you a couple of weeks in the recovery process.
I recommend something a bit sturdier, like this finger splint with a metallic guide which you can find for pretty cheap on Amazon: here.
How do sprained fingers happen in volleyball?
If you’re reading this holding ice to your sprained finger, you probably already have a good idea of how it can happen.
Still, we thought it would be a good idea to outline some of the most common sprained-finger-culprits in volleyball.
Our tips will go over this in further detail, but when you know how people sprain their fingers on the court, you’ll be better prepared to avoid these situations yourself.
*Fair warning: Some aspects of volleyball are unavoidable and accidents just happen. So, while we hope that you’ll be able to avoid walking around in a finger brace for one month, we also know that we won’t be able to prevent every injury from happening.
There are 4 main ways that volleyballers sprain their fingers.
Let’s look at them now.
Unfortunately, blocking is one of those finger-snappers that can be a little harder to avoid.
Especially if you want to focus on keeping good form and technique.
In volleyball, you really want to be pushing over the net as far as possible when blocking.
This takes court away from the opposing spiker, and ensures that the ball travels at a good angle away from your block (straight down we hope!).
For a full tutorial on how to press your hands over the net on the block in volleyball, see this video from Team USA Snow Volleyball Member, and Volley-Pedia’s very own Kevin Owens, here. (Coming soon!)
By doing so, unfortunately, you open your fingers up to a nice blasting.
And when it comes down to it, if the opposing spiker is hitting the ball from high above your hands, then there isn’t much you can do to protect yourself.
That being said, scroll down for Tip #6 to see what you should be doing to avoid spraining your finger on the block.
Defense is a surprisingly common finger-hunter, and has caused its fair share of sprains and broken bones in volleyball’s century-long history.
While it can happen to the best of us, there’s one thing that I’d like to point out:
Something I’ve noticed at all levels throughout my career--from middle school and recreational leagues to International Level volleyball.
People who aren’t paying attention are more likely to get injured.
It may sound harsh, but it’s definitely a pattern that myself and others who have been around the sport for a long time have noticed.
And of course, that doesn’t mean that people don’t get injured when they’re paying attention--sometimes you just get unlucky, right?
Interestingly enough, this happens a lot more in defense than anywhere else.
And it actually makes sense when you think it through. People who are paying attention in defense are anticipating the play and their bodies are ready to react at full speed.
When someone isn’t quite focused, has become distracted, or simply wasn’t ready for an attack, then this is when something tends to go wrong.
In any case, sprained fingers in defense are often the result of the ball catching the tip of the finger head on.
Other ways that it can happen have less to do with the ball, and more to do with… stationary objects:
Like the floor.
And I’m guilty of this, too, so no judgement whatsoever.
When you’re playing defense, sweating it out and doing what you can to keep the ball alive, you’re bound to make some graceful moves and some not-so-graceful efforts.
In my experience, these awkward moves can actually as dangerous as they might be entertaining for your teammates to watch--I’ve seen players dislocate shoulders, break thumbs and strain hip flexors all by making a poor move in defense.
No, that’s not a typo.
But I guess I should clarify, before you start thinking that your teammates are out to get you.
Another common way that people sprain fingers in volleyball and thumbs is by accidental collisions with teammates.
Once you get up to a level where you are swing blocking, and the middle blocker is closing the block next to the pin blocker, things can get a little messy.
Of course, when it’s all running smoothly, there’s nothing to worry about.
But this post is basically highlighting all the ways that things can go wrong, so don’t blame me for focusing on the negatives!
When two players are moving for a swing block together, the timing is key. Once the timing is off, it’s not uncommon for the middle to swing their hands into the hands of the pin blocker--if you’re really unlucky, this can be enough to do some real damage.
Again in defense, colliding with teammates is another way that volleyball players can suffer sprained finger injuries.
#4: The Freak Accident
I had to include this, because it happened to me only recently.
These are the accidents where you wish that you had gotten a better sleep the previous night, or eaten something different for breakfast, or anything to change your luck!
While there are plenty of ways to hurt your fingers while playing volleyball, it turns out there are some more ways to injure yourself just during warm-ups.
Just the other month, I was setting up a net with a somewhat questionable crank system.
Of course, I wasn’t paying close attention, and I flicked the lock to let the net string run loose.
The winding handle of the net post flung back toward me, and before I could pull my hand away it landed a nice metallic thud on the base of my thumb.
That was enough to keep me out for nearly a week, and I hadn’t even set foot on the court!
Of course, there are a million other ways that you can injure your fingers, on and off the volleyball court.
The good news is, these next tips are almost all guided at ways to help you get back on the court sooner if you find yourself in one of these unfortunate positions.
Volley-Pedia’s 13 Finger-Safe Tips
Our Finger-Safe tips come in two categories:
While we do think that each of these tips has a specific circumstance, we never encourage using them in cases when you’ve suffered a severe sprain, fracture or break.
Since most mild sprains can be handled within the first week or so, some of the tips are ‘emergency’ cases--when you have that big match coming up on the weekend, and you really need to be able to play [without doing any long-term damage].
But we can't emphasize this enough: never push yourself to a point that's dangerous or may do long-term damage.
Enough of that, here are the tips.
The most effective way to get back on the court after suffering a finger injury is with the help of a decent tape job.
If your team has a dedicated physiotherapist or athletic trainer--all the better.
But there are several simple tape jobs that you can handle yourself or with the help of a teammate. You don't want to push this too early in the recovery phase, but for jarred fingers, 'buddy taping' the injured finger to the finger next to it is a common technique that can really help.
You can use all kinds of athletic tape to get the job done, but this is the one that we always recommend from Mueller Athletic. You can check it out on Amazon below.
#2: Stretch and Strengthen
This goes for before injury and in the later stages of recovery.
The truth is, many finger injuries can be prevented simply by stretching before practice and strengthening the surrounding muscles in the hands and fingers.
Some players I’ve played alongside (or on the other side of the net from) have had hands like meat cleavers.
There was no way that a ball would do damage to their fingers, and if you want hands like that, you might want to think about taking five minutes out of the day to do some light hand and finger exercises.
You can easily incorporate it into your warm-up, and there are really simple and cheap tools to help you like stress relief balls.
Actually, these are some of my favorite toys for keeping the hands strong, and they’re incredibly cheap and easy to order.
#3: Encourage Blood Flow
Similar to the philosophy behind icing injuries in sport, you’ll want to work on bringing more blood flow to the injured finger when possible.
For me, I always found that physically moving the swelling with my other hand worked wonders for speeding up recovery time:
Warning: This is just something that worked for me in my career. While I’ve also heard some physiotherapists and other professional athletes recommend it (in sports like basketball, too) I don’t know whether or not it’s standard medical practice.
The second warning would be: it hurts.
Don’t put so much pressure on the swelling that it becomes unbearable, but some slight discomfort is to be expected. Just by gently massaging and working some of that blood throughout the finger, I always found that my swelling went down faster, my mobility increased, and I was ready to get back on court sooner.
I’m not really for taking anti-inflammatories just to reduce the swelling.
My feeling is that if the body thinks it needs to send a whole lot of blood to the damaged area--I’m going to let it do that.
Then again, there are some cases where anti-inflammatories can very useful.
While it’s hard to find consistent data on this, it’s interesting to lean on research done in cases of osteoarthritis (where NSAIDs like ibuprofen are used regularly).
Researchers found that, on average, it takes between 4 to 6 hours for slow-release Anti-Inflammatories to reach their peak pain relief levels.
That would mean if you’re still recovering from a finger injury and you are trying to get out there in time for game day, taking your Advil 4 hours before game time would be appropriate.
While I like to rely on the data for these things, I have to say that my own experience is slightly different.
Having played many matches with chronic knee pain and other temporary setbacks, I can say that taking ibuprofen roughly 30 minutes before warm-up was always most effective for me.
#5: Diet & Alcohol
Depending on your age reading this, alcohol may not really be in the picture.
If it is, I can’t tell you enough how much it slows down recovery.
Even for something like a sprained finger, it can be the difference between getting back out there in time for the weekend’s match and missing it because you haven’t given your body the best chance to heal in time.
Diet actually has a similar effect, in my experience.
After any injury, you’ll want to make sure that you’re giving your body more than enough protein to help repair the ligaments.
Muscles and ligaments are made up of proteins, right? So why wouldn’t you want to give your body the building blocks it needs to heal as fast as possible?
#6: Stretch your hands from thumb to pinky on the block
While this is more of a strategy for avoiding a sprained finger in the first place, it’s worth mentioning.
Many players, particularly in juniors, are so focused on jumping and reaching as high as they can on the block that they forget one simple thing:
Spreading your fingers wide on your hand not only makes for a larger blocking area (helping your team to make more touches in defense):
But it’s a great way to prevent many of the awkward jammed fingers that come from poor blocking form.
Spreading your hand wide from pinky to thumb will also keep your fingers taut and strong, making them more resistant to contact with the volleyball.
#7: Pay Attention
I touched on this briefly already:
But too many players are injuring themselves simply by not paying attention.
So if you missed it above, I’m giving you another chance to notice it here!
Stay focused on the task at hand, and you’ll be far less likely to get that unexpected injury.
This goes for sprained fingers, sprained ankles and just about any volleyball injury.
Another important recovery method which I’m sure you’re familiar with is icing.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to do it effectively.
Many people know enough to ice immediately after an injury:
But did you know that the effects of icing only see a sharp drop-off after the first 48 hours of injury?
That means if you took a bad hit on the finger at 6pm on a Wednesday night, you could still be icing your finger with good effect up until that time on Friday evening.
Also, it’s good to know the best practices in icing for recovery suggest:
Keep the finger elevated above the level of your heart when possible;
Never ice for longer than 20 minutes at a time;
Try moving the ice around as an ‘ice massage’; and
Get the ice on as soon as possible.
Yes, you read it correctly.
This is a specific tip for people who are suffering from split fingertips.
For my full article on how to take care of split fingertips, check out Why volleyball players wear tape on their fingers.
#10: Wear a finger brace or splint
For more serious sprains, this will be an important part of the recovery process.
But even for less serious jams and jars, it can be a good idea to keep a finger brace handy.
By wearing a finger brace at home after a slight jam, you’ll make sure that you don’t allow your hand or finger to move in a direction that will do more damage.
#11: Practice skills that don’t use the damaged finger
Many coaches will insist that you sit out of practice until you’re completely ready to play again:
If that’s the case, then so be it.
But if there’s a chance that you can wiggle your way back into some drills early, this will help to keep you in touch without doing any more damage than needed.
For example, if you’re right-handed and the damaged finger is on your left hand:
Ask your coach if you can send in the downballs and practice hitting with your dominant hand.
If the finger is recovering well, but you’re not confident blocking--try getting some passing and setting reps in before committing to a full practice.
Having just spent 3 weeks without touching a volleyball, I can tell you:
Losing touch is a quick process, and it never hurts to get in a few extra reps if you want to be game ready.
#12: Watch Film
Okay, this one might not actually help your finger to heal any faster, but it will help you to be working on your game:
Even when you’re forced to sit on the sidelines.
Watching footage of yourself playing is one of the best ways to improve your game when you can’t actually get in any physical repetitions.
If you can do it with a coach or teammate--even better.
And you don’t need to be a professional athlete to have film on your game play.
These days, phone cameras are better than the best digital camcorders that I used to film my games growing up: so just ask a friend or parent to keep an eye on your phone during games and practices, then let it record from the back of the court.
While it may seem strange at first, you’ll soon see the benefit of watching your technique as an observer, rather than just trying to fix it in your head.
#13: Don’t Rush It
My last tip might actually be the most important point.
And it may sound counter-intuitive, but:
Sometimes waiting longer is the fastest way to get back on the court [in a way that is sustainable].
And don’t think that I’ve always followed this advice throughout my own career.
In fact, the temptation as a competitor is always to push things to the very limit. If I’m supposed to be healthy in three weeks, I’m going to do what I can to see that I’m back on the court in 14 days.
Unfortunately, sometimes the body just doesn’t share your competitive spirit:
And this is an argument you simply can’t afford to lose.
Listen to your body when it sends you pain signals, and ask yourself if you really need to set yourself back another 3-4 weeks just to play one match this weekend.
Rushing back onto the court before you are ready might just work out for you, but it’s always a gamble.
If you didn’t find an answer to your question in this (admittedly massive) post, then leave a comment below and I’ll see if I can answer it.
If I can’t do it directly, I’ll do my best to link you to someone or an article that knows more about it than myself.
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