“I’d give my left pinkie for…” not as trivial an offer as you may think

Not that many people actively seek to lose digits, but it’s easy to imagine losing a pinkie finger without losing much, if any, functionality in the affected hand. But according to occupational therapist Laurie Rogers, the loss of a fifth digit means losing “50 percent of your hand strength, easily.”
The author of the Times article was motivated to pursue this topic after wrecking her right pinkie during a fall she sustained while jogging. I don’t have statistics handy, but I would bet that very few running injuries involve fractures about the metacarpophalangeal joint.
The pinkie is by far the most frequently injured finger, probably owing to a combination of its being unprotected by other fingers and its being positioned in such a way that ensures a high likelihood of its being the finger to smash into the ground first during a fall. And healing can be dismayingly slow, mainly as a result of the formation of copious amounts of scar tissue, which limits mobility even after a fracture itself heals.

  1. #1 by John S. Wilkins on December 16, 2008 - 7:51 pm

    Having lost my left index finger to cancer (long story), I can back this up. I am much weaker in my left hand grip than right, and I used to be a guitarist, so I had a pretty strong left hand.

  2. #2 by Amy on December 16, 2008 - 7:51 pm

    Workers’ compensation schemes have rather gruesome graduated scales of pay for loss of various body parts. This, for example, comes from the U.S. Code:
    (1) Arm lost, three hundred and twelve weeks� compensation.
    (2) Leg lost, two hundred and eighty-eight weeks� compensation.
    (3) Hand lost, two hundred and forty-four weeks� compensation.
    (4) Foot lost, two hundred and five weeks� compensation.
    (5) Eye lost, one hundred and sixty weeks� compensation.
    (6) Thumb lost, seventy-five weeks� compensation.
    (7) First finger lost, forty-six weeks� compensation.
    (8) Great toe lost, thirty-eight weeks� compensation.
    (9) Second finger lost, thirty weeks� compensation.
    (10) Third finger lost, twenty-five weeks� compensation.
    (11) Toe other than great toe lost, sixteen weeks� compensation.
    (12) Fourth finger lost, fifteen weeks� compensation.
    (13) Loss of hearing:
    (A) Compensation for loss of hearing in one ear, fifty-two weeks.
    (B) Compensation for loss of hearing in both ears, two-hundred weeks.
    One of my favorite typos from my law clerk days was writing “significant dismemberment” instead of “significant disfigurement.” My judge liked it so much too that she read it into the official record.

  3. #3 by John S. Wilkins on December 16, 2008 - 7:51 pm

    Having lost my left index finger to cancer (long story), I can back this up. I am much weaker in my left hand grip than right, and I used to be a guitarist, so I had a pretty strong left hand.

  4. #4 by skyotter on December 16, 2008 - 7:58 pm

    my take from the article is that the loss of strength/function to the entire hand was due to improper healing and/or scarring of or near the tendons of the broken digit. while a stiffened or immobilized pinky impairs function of the rest of the hand, a severed digit wouldn’t have those issues, so “losing” a pinky just might be preferable to breaking it badly …
    i dunno. someone check my math =)

  5. #5 by Gerry L on December 16, 2008 - 8:31 pm

    Maybe run some tests on people who do “actively seek to lose digits”: yakuza. Wikipedia has some info about the ritual of finger cutting among Japanese gangsters and notes that cutting off parts of the little finger (and adjacent fingers) makes for a weak sword group (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuza#Rituals)

  6. #6 by Gray Gaffer on December 17, 2008 - 3:57 am

    I performed a graceful somersault over the tail end of a VW Beetle whilst it was in the process of devouring my motorcycle one night. The first part of my body to hit the ground was – tara! – the outer edge on my right hand. I fractured Metacarpal V. I must have got a very tired intern to put on the cast. It was a half-cast, pinched over my hand to hold it place. But he obviously did not know what a metacarpal was, because that was where he pressed the pinch. I didn’t know either, and it stayed that way for a few days. I was wondering why it hurt so much.
    Anyway, this is by the way of reporting agreement about the unexpected diminishment of functionality while only one joint is out of service. And perhaps as a result of that cast, I still, 30 years later, have reduced mobility of that pinky, and it shows, since it can no longer place pressure against the palm of my hand so cannot participate in gripping thin things.

  7. #7 by llewelly on December 29, 2008 - 2:59 pm

    Now wait a minute here. My left pinkie I rely on for the following keys:
    Esc, F1, ~, TAB, Control, Shift, Fn, Hyper, F2, 1, q, a, and z.
    That’s 13 keys. As an emacs user, Control and Shift are very important to me. Losing my left pinkie would be serious – I’d have to learn to type all over again.

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