Getting a wedding ring off isn’t always easy, ask a cheater. The process typically involves lubing up with some soap and water in order to shimmy the thing over the hump of the proximal phalanx. But sometimes it goes a lot faster and far more horrifically than that. Degloving, a phenomenon that occurs when a ring is ripped off, is a modern injury that effects mostly married people and it is horrific. In severe cases, it can rip the skin and muscle clean off the hand, as though the skeleton were removing a flesh glove. Most of the time, it’s not that bad but remains profoundly painful. Famously, it happened to Jimmy Fallon in 2015 when he tripped on a rug and his wedding ring caught on a kitchen counter. Fallon was only able to save his finger with emergency microsurgery. That represented the best case scenario according to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Paull.
“Usually when you take your ring off you can keep it straight, but degloving tilts it and then it rips it,” Paull explains. “It can lead to amputating the finger itself.”
Degloving is more common in men than women because it generally takes place in the context of either a contact sport or work with heavy machinery. In those instances, men can avoid this by removing their rings before going to work or playing basketball. But for men like Fallon who are victims of unfortunate falls, managing the risk proactively isn’t really possible without removing the ring.
Paull suspects this might be a good idea for dads, who are at an increased risk for degloving if they tend to climb trees and playground equipment with their kids. Tripping over toys and toddlers themselves can also make fathers more vulnerable.
When degloving does happen, the damage is obvious and it requires immediate medical attention to save the finger. Injuries like this are especially precarious because when skin is torn it takes all the blood vessels in the appendage with it and there’s not much left behind. If dads are lucky enough to only tear their finger on one side, they may be alright. But if they tear it on both sides, then they have a finger without a blood supply.
Microsurgery is required to save the finger in most cases, which can be much more difficult than people realize. It can take up to three or four procedures total, vein grafts, and even the use of medical leeches to keep blood from pooling to save a finger that will really never be the same again, Paull warns.
“Sometimes people regret going through all that because it’s not the same finger once it heals,” he says, noting that patients complain about stiffness and pain in the salvaged digit. “If it were me, I’d let them amputate it and just have a little stub. That way I wouldn’t have to go through all the surgeries.”
It’s important to note that degloving is a rare injury and men are far more likely to lose their ring finger from other types hand or wrist injuries that cause the ring to cut off circulation. That’s why it’s crucial for men to remove their rings when they endure an injury or have them cut off.
“Some guys don’t want to take their rings off ever,” says Paull. “If you’re particularly worried about this, you can wear a silicone wedding ring — if your wife doesn’t get mad at you.”