Fingertip Amputation

  • Author: Palaniappan Lakshmanan, MBBS, MS, AFRCS, FRCS(Tr&Orth); Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 18, 2015


Fingertip injuries are one of the most common injuries of the hand, and appropriate treatment depends on the type of injury and the involvement of other digits.

Fingertip amputation occurs distal to the insertion of flexor or extensor tendons into the distal phalanx. Numerous techniques are available for the repair of fingertip amputations, with the common goal to reduce pain and preserve sensation at the tip (see Technique).[1, 2] The appropriate approach depends on the amount of tissue involved, the involvement of bone (distal phalanx), the angles and levels of amputation, and the involvement of other fingers or the rest of the hand.

Techniques discussed in this article are as follows:

  • Open technique (nonoperative; healing by secondary intention)
  • Skin graft
  • Reamputation
  • V-Y flap (Kutler or Atasoy)
  • Volar flap advancement (Moberg) [3]
  • Bipedicle dorsal flap
  • Crossfinger flap
  • Thenar flap


Indications for the various techniques employed in fingertip amputation vary, as follows. (See Technique.)

If the fingertip injury is less than 1 cm2, or if the fingertip injury is in a child with adequate soft issue cover over the bone, the injury can be managed nonoperatively with secondary healing.

Larger fingertip injuries that cannot be managed nonoperatively with healing by secondary intention alone, ie, those with a thin layer of epithelium that is not durable, can be treated with skin grafts taken from the hairless ulnar side of the hand.

With regard to reamputation, if the bone is protruding, the bone can be shortened and primary closure can be performed, or the wound can be left open for healing by secondary intention with granulation tissue. This can be performed in adults with injuries that have less than 5 mm of sterile nail matrix present. It is also relatively indicated in patients with significant systemic conditions, for whom regional flaps are contraindicated and the other techniques like skin graft or open technique are not possible.

A V-Y flap is indicated if the angle of fingertip amputation is either oblique with more tissue loss dorsally or transverse. It can be performed only if significant palmar tissue is available for dorsal advancement.

Volar flap advancement was previously used for all fingers; currently, it is recommended only for thumb fingertip amputation in which less than 1.5 cm of advancement is required for coverage. In other fingers, the venous drainage depends on the volar flap, and this technique thus increases the risk of necrosis of the entire flap.

A bipedicle dorsal flap is indicated only for cases in which the fingertip amputation is proximal to the nail bed and in which preserving all its remaining length is essential but attaching to another finger is not desirable.

A crossfinger flap is indicated when local flaps are not possible and maintaining the remaining length is essential. It is especially useful in multiple-digit injury, where maintenance of length in the remaining injured fingertips is considered essential.

A thenar flap is indicated in any fingertip amputation with exposed bone.



Contraindications for the various techniques employed in fingertip amputation vary, as follows. (See Technique.)

Open technique is contraindicated in any fingertip amputation with exposed bone. It is relatively contraindicated in injuries in adults that include tissue loss of more than 1 cm2.

Skin graft alone is insufficient in fingertip amputation with exposed bone.

Reamputation is relatively contraindicated in cases where maintaining remaining length is essential. Otherwise, this procedure can be performed in most cases, though it is not always advantageous, because length is lost.

A V-Y flap is contraindicated when the geometry of the fingertip amputation is oblique with more tissue loss on the volar side. Furthermore, this procedure is not possible with more proximal fingertip amputations.

Volar flap advancement is relatively contraindicated in fingers other than the thumb, as it may result in necrosis of the whole flap. Also, if the defect is more than 2 cm, this technique should not be used.

A bipedicle dorsal flap is not possible when the fingertip amputation is very distal and in cases where the soft tissue loss is significantly at the sides.

A crossfinger flap is avoided in patients older than 50 years and in hands with arthritis or a tendency toward finger stiffness. It is also avoided if local infection is present.

Any tendency toward finger stiffness is a relative contraindication for a thenar flap.


Technical Considerations


The basic skeleton of the wrist and hand comprises a total of 27 bones. The hand is innervated by three nerves—the median, ulnar, and radial nerves—each of which has sensory and motor components. The muscles of the hand are divided into intrinsic and extrinsic groups.

The hand contains 14 phalanges. Each digit contains three phalanges (proximal, middle, and distal), except for the thumb, which only has two phalanges. To avoid confusion, each digit is referred to by its name (thumb, index, long, ring, and small) rather than by number.

The nails are specialized skin appendages derived from the epidermis. The nail bed has a germinal matrix, sterile matrix, and hyponychium. Ninety percent of the nail plate is produced by the germinal matrix, which approximately corresponds to the lunula (pale semicircle in proximal nail bed). This germinal matrix starts proximally at the base of the distal phalanx just distal to the insertion of the extensor tendon.

The entire nail matrix is in intimate contact with the periosteum of the distal phalanx; therefore, it is vulnerable to injury when the latter is fractured.

For more information about the relevant anatomy, see Hand Anatomy.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Palaniappan Lakshmanan, MBBS, MS, AFRCS, FRCS(Tr&Orth) Consultant Spinal Surgeon, Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics, Sunderland Royal Hospital, UK

Palaniappan Lakshmanan, MBBS, MS, AFRCS, FRCS(Tr&Orth) is a member of the following medical societies: British Orthopaedic Association, AOSpine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Sukhvans Sandhu, MBChB Spinal Senior House Officer, The Centre for Spinal Studies and Surgery, Queens Medical Centre, UK

Sukhvans Sandhu, MBChB is a member of the following medical societies: British Medical Association, Royal Society of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP Nurse Planner, Medscape; Senior Clinical Professor of Nursing, George Washington University

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Erik D Schraga, MD Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mills-Peninsula Emergency Medical Associates

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Joseph U Becker, MD Fellow, Global Health and International Emergency Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine

Joseph U Becker, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Phi Beta Kappa, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


The author acknowledges the work of Mrs. Unnamalai Lakshmanan in helping typeset the article.

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Geometry of fingertip amputations.
V-Y flap.
Moberg flap.
Thenar flap.
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