- Emergency Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA 2. Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado, Aurora,
USA 3. Miscellaneous, Aitutaki Hospital, Aitutaki, COK 4. Obstetrics & Gynecology, Aitutaki Hospital, Aitutaki, COK
Corresponding author: Rombod Rahimian, [email protected]
Ring tourniquet syndrome is a strangulation injury, usually at the proximal finger or toe, caused by a rigid
circular metal object. The resulting ischemia can lead to necrosis, permanent nerve and/or tissue damage,
and amputation of the digit. There are numerous non-cutting methods for removing the ring; however,
edema, fractures, or arthrosis of the site can occasionally make these techniques difficult or impossible.
While ring cutters, manual or electric, are the first choice for resolving ring tourniquet caused by metal
jewelry, these tools are not readily available everywhere. Resolution of ring tourniquet with high-speed
rotary tools has been previously described as a tertiary method. Here we describe the use of a high-speed
dental tool as a primary ring cutting method for the resolution of ring tourniquet in a patient with
significant edema in a low-resource setting.
Categories: Emergency Medicine, Family/General Practice, Medical Education
Keywords: ring tourniquet, dental drill, ring, hand, emergency, ischemia, strangulation
Ring tourniquet syndrome is a strangulation injury caused by a rigid circular object, most often a piece of
jewelry or metal nut. The site of the injury is generally the proximal finger or toe, although there are case
reports of ring tourniquet syndrome of the penis and testicles . The strangulation generally occurs
secondary to edema from infection, trauma, or other inflammatory processes that leads to entrapment of the
ring. The constricting ring worsens the edema by reducing venous and lymphatic drainage and ultimately
restricts arterial supply . Without treatment in a timely fashion, tendon and nerve damage, ischemia and
necrosis can ensue leading to amputation.
There are multiple well-documented ring sparing and ring cutting techniques for resolving ring tourniquet. If
ring cutting methods are required, standard ring cutters will often suffice for softer jewelry metals, such as
gold or silver. However, for hardened metals, such as stainless steel or tungsten carbide rings, diamond
tipped cutting instruments or shattering the ring with a hammer may be necessary .
In this case, a 41-year-old Maori female presented to a rural island health outpost in the Cook Islands with
pain and swelling of the left ring finger, which she first noticed three days ago following a ten-hour plane
flight. The patient denied any recent trauma or sick symptoms. On examination, the left ring finger
demonstrated marked fusiform swelling, with erosion of the skin due to a wedding ring tourniquet. The
outpost serves as the only health facility on the island of Aitutaki, providing primary medical and dental
services. The clinic did not have manual or electric ring cutters available. Here, we present the successful
resolution of a ring tourniquet using a high-speed dental drill in a rural health clinic.
The patient presented to the health outpost with aching of her left ring finger (pain score 8 out of 10) and
associated swelling localized to the proximal phalanx (PIP) (Figures 1-2).
The patient first noticed the swelling in her ring finger three days prior, after a 10-hour flight. Her vitals
were within normal limits. On examination of the finger, there was significant edema and shallow ulceration
with granulation tissue formation over the ring margin. There was no purulent drainage, fluctuance, or
streaking redness. Distal sensation was intact with normal two-point discrimination. The finger was warm,
with capillary refill time less than two seconds. She was unable to flex the finger distal to the
Elevation of the limb, ice pack application, and lubrication with traction were all attempted. String technique
was attempted but was not tolerated by the patient. The available topical anesthetic was insufficient to
control the pain associated with string compression. Ring or bolt cutters were unavailable. The patient
consented to ring cutting as ring preservation was not a priority. A topical anesthetic gel was applied to the
finger. Successful ring removal was accomplished with a high-speed dental handpiece as well as water and a
steel spatula to protect the underlying tissue (Figure 3) (Video 1).
A course of oral antibiotics was prescribed and tetanus toxoid vaccination was prophylactically administered
following the ring removal [1-3]. On post procedure examination, the digit had intact distal sensation,
capillary refill time less than two seconds, and improved range of motion. The patient had a full recovery
without any complications or loss of function upon follow-up at four weeks.
In this case, we demonstrated an appropriate situation and technique for the resolution of a ring tourniquet
with a high-speed dental tool. While this technique has been previously described as a tertiary option in a
well-stocked office or emergency department, in resource-limited settings, it is reasonable to utilize a highspeed dental tool or another rotary tool with an appropriate cutting after the failure of ring sparing
techniques. The rapid resolution of ring tourniquet prevents complications including nerve damage,
necrosis, and gangrene following prolonged ischemia. The primary risk of this technique is the possibility of
harm to the patient from the high-speed tool, either from direct trauma from the tool or thermal injury.
However, as we have demonstrated, protection with a steel spatula and water to cool the instrument can
help mitigate some of this risk. The early use of a high-speed dental drill or rotary tool for the treatment of
ring tourniquet syndrome serves patients well after failure of ring sparing techniques.
For patients presenting with a ring tourniquet syndrome, the early use of an immediate and precise
cutting tool with the appropriate technique may optimize patient outcomes and allow for rapid resolution.
Human subjects: Consent was obtained by all participants in this study. Conflicts of interest: In
compliance with the ICMJE uniform disclosure form, all authors declare the following: Payment/services
info: All authors have declared that no financial support was received from any organization for the
submitted work. Financial relationships: All authors have declared that they have no financial
relationships at present or within the previous three years with any organizations that might have an
interest in the submitted work. Other relationships: All authors have declared that there are no other
relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.
We would like to acknowledge the contributions and support from all members of the Aitutaki Hospital and
Cook Islands – Ministry of Health.