Definition

What is mallet finger?

Mallet finger, also known as baseball finger, is an injury to the thin tendon that straightens the end joint of a finger or thumb. This injury can happen to anyone when an unyielding object (like a ball) strikes the tip of a finger or thumb and forces it to bend further than it is intended to go. As a result, you are not able to straighten the tip of your finger or thumb on your own.

How common is mallet finger?

Mallet finger is common. It can affect patients at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of mallet finger?

The finger is usually painful, swollen, and bruised. The fingertip will droop noticeably and will straighten only if you push it up with your other hand.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if there is blood beneath the nail or if the nail is detached. This may be a sign of a cut in the nail bed, or that the finger bone is broken and the wound penetrates down to the bone (open fracture). These types of injuries put you at risk for infection.

Causes

What causes mallet finger?

Mallet finger happens when an unyielding object (like a ball) strikes the tip of a finger or thumb and forces it to bend further than it is intended to go. As a result, you are not able to straighten the tip of your finger or thumb on your own.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for mallet finger?

Please consult your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is mallet finger diagnosed?

A mallet finger injury requires medical treatment to ensure the finger regains as much function as possible. Most doctors recommend seeking treatment within a week of injury. However, there have been cases in which treatment was delayed for as long as a month after injury and full healing was still achieved.

Physical Examination

After discussing your medical history and symptoms, your doctor will examine your finger or thumb. During the examination, your doctor will hold the affected finger and ask you to straighten it on your own. This is called the mallet finger test.

X-rays

Your doctor will most likely order x-rays of the injury. If a fragment of the distal phalanx was pulled away when the tendon ruptured, or if there is a larger fracture of the bone, it will appear in an x-ray. An x-ray will also show whether the injury pulled the bones of the joint out of alignment.

How is mallet finger treated?

Mallet finger injuries that are not treated typically result in stiffness and deformity of the injured fingertip. The majority of mallet finger injuries can be treated without surgery.

In children, mallet finger injuries may involve the cartilage that controls bone growth. The doctor must carefully evaluate and treat this injury in children, so that the finger does not become stunted or deformed.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Most mallet finger injuries are treated with splinting. A splint holds the fingertip straight (in extension) until it heals.

To restore function to the finger, the splint must be worn full time for 8 weeks. This means that it must be worn while bathing, then carefully changed after bathing. As the splint dries, you must keep your injured finger straight. If the fingertip droops at all, healing is disrupted and you will need to wear the splint for a longer period of time.

Because wearing a splint for a long period of time can irritate the skin, your doctor may talk with you about how to carefully check your skin for problems. Your doctor may also schedule additional visits over the course of the 8 weeks to monitor your progress.

For 3 to 4 weeks after the initial splinting period, you will gradually wear the splint less frequently — perhaps only at night. Splinting treatment usually results in both acceptable function and appearance, however, many patients may not regain full fingertip extension.

For some patients, the splinting regimen is very difficult. In these cases, the doctor may decide to insert a temporary pin across the fingertip joint to hold it straight for 8 weeks.

Surgical Treatment

Your doctor may consider surgical repair if there is a large fracture fragment or the joint is out of line (subluxed). In these cases, surgery is done to repair the fracture using pins to hold the pieces of bone together while the injury heals.

It is not common to treat a mallet finger surgically if bone fragments or fractures are not present. Surgical treatment of the damaged tendon usually requires a tendon graft — tendon tissue that is taken (harvested) from another part of your body — or even fusing the joint straight.

An orthopedic surgeon should be consulted in making the decision to treat this condition surgically.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage mallet finger?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 31, 2017 | Last Modified: October 31, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.