What To Do If You Bruise Your Thumbnail

take a look at these hands!

My first reaction to most minor medical crisies is to look online for information and, ideally, remedies that do not involve me talking to strangers. If the number of people referred to thingsihate by searches for “nude+superheroes” (after I used that phrase in one article) is any indication, search engines work. We’re the number one resource for Petey comics on the Web, we might as well do another damn public service and teach people how to fix their bruised fingernails before they turn purple.

I was at my flint knapping class at the craft center last Thursday evening, learning how to make arrowheads. That is, I was learning to whack vaguely arrowhead-shaped chips of obsidian off of a larger rock; I’m taking it on faith that I’ll eventually be able to make arrowheads.

We spent the first class learning how to knock off chips properly. This second class, we were learning how to shape substandard chips. They’re supposed to be as flat as possible. You can either start out with flat chips, which I was pretty good at making, or you can flatten regular chips. Which I was not good at at all.

But I didn’t worry. I figured that if I was okay at making flat chips, I didn’t need to worry about correcting bumpy ones. I could just do it right from the get-go! So I was just happily banging my hammer rock on my increasingly smaller chunk of obsidian, making flat shards.

My second class went better than my first class, partially because I had a better idea what to hit and partially because I had remembered to bring gloves and was no longer leaking vital fluids every few minutes. That is, until halfway through the class.

I had run out of plains that had the right angle to be hit. Actually, it was an acute angle I was looking for. The surface needed to be cleared, and I was having no luck. I banged and banged on the rock with every ounce of strength and in every possible direction, growing more and more frustrated.

As you might imagine, I’m not the most coordinated person in the world. It was only a matter of time before I hit myself with my hammer stone. I’d done it before and skinned my knuckles, but this time the angle was bad and the gloves reduced the stone’s friction. I ended up slamming the hammer stone directly into my left thumb’s nail bed.

Then I just sat there for a few seconds, not moving a muscle, hoping subconsciously that if I stayed really still the pain would not find me. No such luck. It was an overwhelming, dull pain that made my hand and arm feel weak and numb. I really didn’t want to take my glove off, but the teacher noticed my pained expression and lack of movement.

“I hit my thumb. I don’t recommend it,” I stated by way of explanation. Being a curious bunch, the class all wanted to look. Carefully, I slid the glove off of my hand, trying to gauge through misfiring nerves if my thumb was slick with blood or torn or broken. It looked normal, except for the huge red spot under the nail.

“Ooh. You’re probably going to lose that,” the teacher said.

“Dark nail polish,” said the guy next to me.

Crud. I don’t especially enjoy being injured, but disfigurement is even worse. During the rest of the class my hand still felt numb and detached, and I worried about losing the nail. My nails are thin and weak already and I’m trying to grow them out after years of compulsively trimming them much too short. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to work on regrowing a thumbnail completely. With my level of manicuring skill, it’d end up looking like a mutant toenail.

I went back to my room and stared at my thumb. It still hurt and wouldn’t bend right, and when I touched it it seemed hard and overinflated. The red spot was bigger, covering about half of the nail. I searched for information on fingernail bruises online, finding absolutely nothing except for a beauticians’ website that advised manicurists to just paint over them like normal.

As I tried to decide whether this would get me laughed out of Urgent Care or not, and whether the student health center was closed, I remembered that my father had also had this happen a few months ago. He’d had an ugly black spot under his thumbnail, but he might have some tips. Pop was sympathetic, and I got to describe the circumstances surrounding my injury for what would not be the last time:

“I hit my thumbnail as hard as I could with a GREAT BIG ROCK!”

Pop said I should just drill through the nail and let the blood come a-spurtin’ out. He told me an inspirational story about how his thumb had showered him with black blood when he tried this technique, even long after his injury. I thought of drills and shuddered. Even typing or touching the end of the nail made my thumb intensely painful; a drill’s vibration would be excruciating, and I’d be lucky not to drill through into the finger proper.

Then Pop laughed and explained that I didn’t have to do anything that extreme. I could just heat a paperclip red hot and plunge that through my nail! Easy as pie! Ha ha! He also said that there wasn’t any chance of hitting the quick; the blood was making a bubble between the nail and the flesh. Pop encouraged me to do it right away, lest I end up with an unsightly bruise for weeks and months. Then he suggested I use the great big awl on my knife.

I hung up the phone and steeled my nerve. The pressure was unpleasant, and it was a nice thought that I could remedy that. If I stuck the wire too far in or didn’t stop bleeding, I’d have an excuse to go to the hospital. If I was going to lose the nail anyway, I might as well have a damn STORY to go with it!

I unbent my smallest safety pin and held it in my right hand over a lighter in my left. It heated up quickly, and like a G. Gordon Liddy or a T.E. Lawrence I plunged it into the largest spot of trapped blood. The nail melted like plastic. I barely felt the heat.

The blood spurted out and splattered my chin, then just oozed out of the hole in my nail. It immediately felt better. After a while, the oozing stopped. My nail still felt like it was wobbly and badly attached and there were still a couple of blood spots beneath it, but it looked and felt much more normal. I went to bed convinced that the world was a good place after all.

The next day the pain was down to a dull ache but the pressure was getting more uncomfortable again, so I decided to tackle the other two blood spots. Having conquered the most desperate part, I lost the nerve to deal with the moderate, not terribly painful bruises. I made a small indentation over each of them but didn’t break through the nail, pulling the pin away when I started to feel the heat.

I’m such a sissy. It was probably also due to the fact that these blood cushions under the nail were smaller, so I felt the heat more and panicked.

The day after that, I was watching TV and getting annoyed at the blood pools. The first spot I’d attacked was completely gone now, leaving only a little pinhole. The other two were getting a little purplish. Since the nail wasn’t as sensitive to pressure, I snapped out my Swiss Army knife’s awl and absentmindedly and gently twisted it against the partial holes. I didn’t notice that I’d broken through the first one until my fingers felt wet. There was less blood and that mixed with water, and the bruise beneath the nail still showed a little, but it also felt much better without the pressure. The third spot was exactly like the second.

My nail looks normal from a distance now, and only a little funky up close. I have two small off-pink spots and three tiny pinholes, which I’m thinking of sealing with glue.

N.B. Annna has no medical training beyond advanced CPR courses and is also dangerously insane. Do not plunge red hot needles into your bruised fingernails on her advice alone. Even though it feels really nice to take the pressure off and your finger will likely be much less deformed afterwards. Doll does not walk.

My mother, an actual RN, tells me that most emergency rooms have a device that will do this automatically. She slammed her finger in the car door once and was resolved to just bear with it. A few days later a doc happened to see it, shook his head and came back with the finger-pokin’ implement. It was over before she knew what was happening.

So I guess you can go to the ER, if you’re a big baby or something.

Mom also says to try putting some ice on it.

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14 thoughts on “What To Do If You Bruise Your Thumbnail

  1. Knapping
    If you’re working obsidian,
    it gets very sharp, like a
    three micron edge, sharper
    than surgical steel. I saw
    an obsidian chipping pit near
    Virginia City, Nevada.
    In Mexico at some pyramids,
    I found a “knife” of obsidian
    that is made by making a nucleus
    about the size of a gallon paint
    can from obsidian, the glass flow
    has to be all vertical. One knock
    on the top edge, and a wonderful
    long and faceted flake separates.
    Around here, there are several
    quartz flint chipping pits that
    are 10,000 to 12,000 years old.
    The chipping pits are knappers
    bad work, or at least the pieces
    that didn’t break right, or were
    almost finished, then cracked the
    wrong way. I haven’t found any
    whole finished points or spears
    in the pits, only partly finished
    and broken work. Some of the blunt
    war club heads were sandstone.
    I’ve found one arrowhead made
    of black slate with two white
    flint stripes, a skunk arrow!
    of some magic, I’m certain.
    Around here, good points depend
    on good flint, some stones are
    impossible to break cleanly.
    I’ve got some antler tips so
    I can try pressure flaking.
    I’ve seen good knappers knock
    out a nice point in less than
    five minutes, but not me.
    I learned to shoe horses
    starting with a flat iron bar,
    and there were some farrier
    courses at UC Santa Barbara.
    Knapping obsidian must be an
    anthro course.

  2. Nope
    I’m taking the class from a middle-aged female massage therapist. It’s not for credit, unfortunately, although it’s no dumber than most things they give you one credit for. It’s just at the craft center. I figured that if I ever get thrown through a time door, I can teach the monkeys how to make flint knives and speak Old English. Hwæt!

  3. flint-knapping
    don’t know how i happened onto this site, oh yeah, trying to regrow a toenail, anyway, flint knapping caught my eye. i’m a big fan of Jean Auel’s books, esp. Valley of The Horses. flint knapping is described in detail in this book as well as some of the others. it’s fiction, but Auel is a brilliant researcher. Just wanted to throw that out.

  4. The Thumbnail Incident
    Top advice there!, I slammed the car door on mine and it was black within seconds, after a whole sleepless night of a throbbing digit, i ventured onto the net to find relief, burnt a needle and popped a hole in the nail. INSTANT RELIEF, was like a bloodbath though, think I will still lose the nail but not bothered as long as I sleep tonight. Thanks for the advice :) Moonpop

  5. Hooray!
    I’m glad it works for other people, too!

    My thumbnail grew out just fine for about two months. The only wrinkle was that there was still a little air pocket under the nail, prone to getting water in it when I did dishes. I dried it and put a drop of superglue over the hole, and that was that.

    After about two months, though, as the part I’d hit/drilled through started to reach the tip of my thumb, it came off of the nail entirely. I guess there was an interruption in the nail material about there, and when it got to the top it was weaker, or maybe the weird little pocket travelled. After that I had a somewhat short nail for a few weeks, and then a completely normal nail again.

  6. getting smashed
    I smashed my finger pretty nicely yesterday and it was getting worse every hour, what with swelling and purpling, so I decided to find out if it was really a good idea to make a hole in the nail.

    A Google search for “hot needle pressure purple fingernail” turned up a list of sites with this one at the top. It was encouragement enough to go through with it, and now, a couple of hours later, I can actually use that finger to type without pain.

    Thanks, Annna!

  7. husband smashed toenail

    my husband smashed his toenail in a basketball game. It turned completely purple and lifted off the nail bed because of blood build-up. He had injured the nail before and the nail itself had grown to be at least an eighth of an inch thick. Nasty. He limped about for almost a week and would not go to a doctor because last time he had gone with a different toenail he had to have shots in his toe and that apparently hurt like hell. But he could hardly walk and we had to do something.

    I found this website and one night armed with a needle and a candle I got him to sit in the bathroom and I started to melt through the nail. After almost two hours of work the needle went through the nail. It squirted out blood mixed with serum and he immediately felt better. It continued to seep for another couple of days, but it gotten so much better so fast that the morning after I burned through his nail we went hiking and did 18 miles. I’m not kidding, we are both training for a 100K one day hike later this month and that was one of the training hikes for that.

    Anyways, just thought I’d share this story. This is an excellent method of dealing with toenail injuries as well as results of rocks dropped on hands. Great public service!

    Thanks a lot.

  8. It really works!
    I was about to give up on this and go back to bed with my throbbing finger. But I decided to heat the needle one last time and try again. I am so glad I did. The blood came oozing out and I feel much better. I’m so happy all my nail drilling was not in vain. Thanks so much!

  9. bruised finger nail
    you know what also works . take the smallest drill bit you can find and with your good hand twist the drill bit between your fingers to make a hole on your finger nail .it will take a while but you won’t feel any burning like with the hot needle

  10. drill bit
    go the drill bit route. It took me about 2 minutes to drill through carefully, maybe 3. Try to find the micro small drill.. as it will leave a tiny hole.. my hole is almost a millimeter plus. The think they should note is that if you do this too late in the process you just find dry blood in the hole.. and it looks nasty and then some.. If you are like me, trying to get rid of the blood after the pressure is resided some, it is likely too late.

    hey guys this happened about almost two weeks ago and i slammed my hand in the door while getting out of the car. I couldnt get my finger out i had to open the door. It hurt so bad. so I found out i have to make a paperclip super hot and stick a whole in my finger well little did i know i was suppose to numb it a little with ice. Oh man did it hurt with out the ice i dont think i have ever felt so much pain it was just horrible but the it poked through nicely after being in the ice actually it just kind of popped and it scared me so i pulled my hand away quickly i got blood on my carpet now but it still is very tender and extremely sore around my finger im just waiting for a new nail to grow in quickly hopefully it will be soon my finger is still pretty ugly

  12. why is my toe oozing
    i slipped on a tredmill and the end of it picked up my nail the next day i look at it and the nail dosnt move now but it is oozing this clear liqued.what is it and what is its purpose.

  13. I’m sure you’ll be highly amused to know that your blog is still one of the top hits when looking up bruised left thumbnails :)

    I hit mine in sculpture class, full force with a hammer as long as my arm. It doesn’t have any blood bubbles yet/at all so your nifty trick won’t be my answer for the moment.

    Happily, now I know what to do if it does progress that way!

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