How To Get a Ring Off a Swollen Finger—And When To Know if It's an Emergency

Rings can get stuck on fingers for several reasons. Find out what causes a ring to get stuck, how to remove it, and when to get treatment.

It's easy to take your ability to remove a ring off your finger for granted until you suddenly...can't. But, how can a ring get stuck on your finger, and what are you supposed to do if it happens? Experts weigh in.

How-To-Remove-A-Ring-From-A-Swollen-Finger-GettyImages-152405742
Getty Images

Why Does a Ring Get Stuck on Your Finger?

For starters, this happens more often than you'd think. "It's pretty common," Lewis Nelson, MD, chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Health.

In general, the temperature can make a difference in how snug your ring fits. People tend to have a little swelling when temperatures are hot. The temperature change might be significant enough to cause your ring to get stuck if it already has a tight fit.

There are a few larger reasons why you might get a ring stuck on your finger:

  • You haven't taken it off for years. Think: a wedding or engagement ring. "The ring doesn't change, but the finger size can," said Dr. Nelson. "You might gain weight, or your body may change. Sometimes, even the bone changes." And that can make removing a ring tricky.
  • You ate too much sodium. "If you eat a meal that's high in salt, you may get more swelling around a ring," Eric Adkins, MD, emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Health.
  • You had a hand injury. This can be an issue even if it's not your ring finger that you hurt, said Dr. Nelson. "There's so much soft tissue in your hand. It tends to get very swollen and that can all distribute down to your fingers," added Dr. Nelson.

Prevention

Weight gain and swelling during pregnancy could make your rings too tight for your fingers. Arthritis, atopic dermatitis, kidney disease, and certain medications can cause swelling of the fingers too.

If you have a chronic condition that's affecting your finger size, think about taking steps to prevent your rings from getting stuck. You could consider replacing your rings or getting them enlarged at a jeweler's if they are valuable to you.

How Can You Know if a Stuck Ring Is an Emergency?

It's never great if you're trying to get a ring off and won't budge, said Dr. Adkins. "But if swelling starts to happen…there's definitely a fair amount of urgency to that," continued Dr. Adkins.

Some sure signs that you need to seek help ASAP, per Dr. Nelson:

  • You're in pain.
  • Your finger is swelling rapidly.
  • The color is draining from your finger.

"As the finger swells, the ring becomes a restrictive band," explained Dr. Nelson. "That can cut off blood supply to the finger."

And that, said Dr. Adkins, is really bad. "If you wait too long, you could be at risk of loss of function or losing the finger entirely, depending on how things go with the ring," added Dr. Adkins.

So What Should You Do if You Can't Get Your Ring Off?

While it's completely fine to seek emergency care right away, it's understandable that you might want to try some home hacks first—and there are plenty.

Rest With Your Hand Raised

"If the hand is a little swollen and you think you can get the swelling down, you could raise your hand up and give it a little time," Kathryn Boling, MD, a primary care physician at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center, told Health. This allows blood and fluid to drain away from your fingers, possibly reducing swelling in the process. "You may be able to get the ring right off after a while," said Dr. Boling.

Try To Lubricate the Ring

The key here is to use a lubricant on the ring itself and not your entire finger, recommended Dr. Adkins. "You want to be cautious with how much you use," said Dr. Adkins. "Once you get too much on there, it makes it hard to get the ring off your finger because you can have a hard time grasping it."

As for what, exactly, to use, Dr. Nelson suggested soap, petroleum jelly, or hand cream to help remove the ring. "Usually, with enough wiggling back and forth, people can get it off," said Dr. Nelson.

Ice Your Finger

Ice can be really helpful in this situation, said Dr. Adkins. "It helps constrict the blood vessels that go toward the finger, and you'll get decreased blood flow—that can help shrink the finger," explained Dr. Adkins. "Everything gets a little more shrunken in the cold."

Try Twisting the Ring

This is a little more in-depth than it sounds. Dr. Adkins recommended slowly twisting the ring, while trying to pull some of your skin from above the ring to below it. "It can be challenging because you're trying to do this with one hand," said Dr. Adkins. If you can recruit a friend or partner for help, they can try to do this gently.

Use Some Dental Floss

This is a little complicated, but Dr. Nelson said it "works pretty well." To try the hack, slip a piece of fine string or dental floss under your ring. Tightly wrap the string around your finger, up past the knuckle. Then, unwrap the string from the bottom part that's under the ring. The ring should move up and over the string as you unwrap. "Be careful not to leave it on too long," cautioned Dr. Adkins. "Otherwise, you can cut off blood supply to the rest of your finger."

When All Else Fails

If you've tried all that and the ring still isn't budging, Dr. Boling said you can either go to your local fire station or emergency room. "A lot of times they'll have an instrument that can cut the ring off," said Dr. Boling. Just call ahead to be sure they're equipped to handle your situation, so you don't waste a trip, advised Dr. Adkins.

If your ring is sentimental, all is not lost. "In most cases, we can save the ring," said Dr. Nelson. "Then, a jeweler can fix it for you."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles