Trying to remove a ring from a swollen finger is a little like stuffing size 7 feet into size 6 shoes -- it usually can be done, but it takes persistence and may be uncomfortable. You can give some tried-and-true home remedies a go, if your finger isn't injured, numb, painful or discolored. Blue, purple, or ashen skin typically signals poor blood circulation, which might endanger your finger.
Reduce the Swelling
Reducing the swelling in your finger is usually the first step in trying to remove a ring that has gotten stuck. Although it's tempting to keep tugging at a stuck ring, this is usually counterproductive as it might make the swelling worse. Instead, try soaking your hand in a bowl of ice water or applying an ice pack to the swollen finger for about 10 minutes. If using an ice pack, holding your hand above your heart while chilling your finger might help reduce swelling. Once your finger is cold, try removing the ring again. If it's still stuck, you can repeat the chilling procedure or combine it with another method to get the ring off.
Lubricate the Finger
Lubricating your finger to make it slippery often does the trick when you're trying to remove a ring that's gotten stuck. But don't try to lubricate the finger if it has a cut or rash. A number of substances or products might work, including soap, hand lotion, petroleum jelly, cooking oil, hair conditioner or ammonia-based glass cleaner (Windex). Use a generous amount and try to get the lubricant under the ring. You can often accomplish this by alternately pressing on the top and bottom of the ring to open a small space for the lubricant. Once you've slathered your finger, try to twist the ring off. Alternatively, you can try to "walk" the ring off your finger by rocking it back and forth as you pull it toward your fingertip.
Wrap the Finger
If chilling and lubrication fail, wrapping the finger can compress the swollen tissue and provide a mechanism to twist the ring off. You can use narrow gift-wrapping ribbon or flat dental tape to do this. Although dental floss is often mentioned as an option, it isn't the best choice as it might cut into your finger as you try to remove the ring.
Cut a 3-foot piece of the dental tape or ribbon. Slide one end under the ring so that you have a 4- to 6-inch tail in the palm of your hand. Use a toothpick to push the wrapping material under the ring, if needed. While holding the tail securely, tightly wind the tape or ribbon around your finger. Start from the area just above the ring and wrap until your middle knuckle is covered. Tie the free end to keep the wrapping secure or have someone else hold that end. Grasp the palm tail of the string with your other hand, and slowly pull on the ring. The ring should follow the tape or ribbon as you unwind it toward the end your finger. Have a pair of scissors handy to cut the tape or ribbon off your finger should this method fail.
Next Steps and Warnings
If these methods fail and your finger is not discolored, numb or painful, you can try again another day. Limiting the salt in your diet before attempting your next try might help reduce the swelling in your finger. If you cannot wait or subsequent attempts are unsuccessful and you want the ring off, see your healthcare provider. She will likely try similar techniques but has access to other materials and tools that might prove successful. If all else fails, the ring might have to be cut off your finger -- but don't panic. This is not painful and a jeweler can repair and resize the ring for you. Seek immediate medical care if your finger is injured, discolored, numb or painful.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- Advanced First Aid, CPR, and AED, 7th Edition; Alton L. Thygerson, et al.
- Handbook of Primary Care Procedures; Lippincott Williams and Wilkins
Tracy Flynn is a nursing professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, where she has taught health care policy and economics as well as public health for 10 years. Her prior experience as a certified public accountant has provided her a unique perspective as a nurse. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies at Gonzaga University in leadership and social justice.