What is mallet finger?

Mallet finger is an injury to the end joint of the finger (or thumb) that can rupture or pull the extensor tendon away from the area where it attaches to the finger bone. Mallet finger is also known as “baseball finger” and is common in (but not limited to) baseball players.

Causes of mallet finger

Mallet finger is typically caused by a strike to the finger that bends it beyond where it typically is supposed to go. Mallet finger got the name “baseball finger” because it happens to baseball players when a ball hits the extensor tendon and bends it backward.

Risk factors for mallet finger

People who play baseball or similar sports are at a higher risk of developing mallet finger.

Symptoms of mallet finger

The most common symptoms of mallet finger are immediate pain, swelling, bruising or tenderness at the outermost joint. Other symptoms of mallet finger include:

  • Inability to completely extend the finger
  • Fingertip droops down and can only be straightened by pushing it upward

Diagnosis of mallet finger

If you suspect you have mallet finger, schedule an appointment with your physician right away to ensure you gain maximum amount of control back in your finger. An orthopedic physician will often do a complete medical exam of the hand and finger to determine if you have mallet finger. The physician may also order an x-ray or MRI to determine if the injury pulled the bones out of alignment or if a tendon is torn.

Treatments for mallet finger

Although early intervention and treatment for mallet finger is crucial, most cases of mallet finger can be treated without surgery. If you suspect you have mallet finger, ice and elevate the hand immediately and visit your orthopedic physician within a week.

First-line therapy for mallet finger is splinting or bracing the impacted finger. The goal of splinting is to keep the fingertip straightened to allow for the tendon to heal. In most cases, the fingertip will be continuously splinted for six to eight weeks. If the split is taken off in the middle of the treatment, the finger must be splinted again and treatment must start over again.

In more severe cases, where there are bone fragments or the joint is misaligned, surgery is indicated to treat mallet finger. To secure the bone fragment and realign the joint, orthopedic hand surgeons use pins, wires or small screws.

In other cases, surgery is indicated when nonsurgical treatment options have failed and the patient does not have full finger extension.  Your orthopedic hand surgeon will work with you to determine the treatment that is most appropriate for your case.

Recovery from mallet finger

Recovery time for patients with mallet finger depends on the severity of the injury. Patients who have strained or stretched the tendon can heal as quickly as four weeks if they follow their physician’s treatment recommendations. If the tendon is torn or pulled off the bone, recovery from mallet finger can take up to 12 weeks.

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