Mallet Finger Overview
Commonly an athletic injury, mallet finger occurs when the outermost joint of the finger is injured. Basketball and baseball players routinely experience jammed fingers, but the injury can occur because of a crushing accident on the job or even because of a cut finger while working in the kitchen.
With mallet finger, the tendon on the back of the finger (not the palm side) is separated from the muscles it connects.
Three types of injuries commonly occur:
- The tendon is damaged, but no fractures (bone cracks or breaks) are present.
- The tendon ruptures with a small fracture caused by the force of the injury.
- The tendon ruptures with a large fracture.
Mallet Finger Causes
Mallet finger occurs when the outermost joint of the finger is injured. With mallet finger, the tendon on the back of the finger (not the palm side) is separated from the muscles it connects. Three types of injuries commonly occur:
Mallet Finger Symptoms
People with mallet finger may delay seeking medical attention-even though they may be in a great deal of pain-simply because they can still use their hand.
Symptoms may include the following:
- Pain, tenderness, and swelling at the outermost joint immediately after the injury
- Swelling and redness soon after the injury
- Inability to completely extend the finger but can move it with help
When to Seek Medical Care
Call a doctor immediately to evaluate the injury to determine the need for x-ray films, and to repair any deep cuts. The doctor may recommend an appointment with a hand surgeon for further evaluation or surgery.
A doctor may instruct a person with mallet finger to go to a hospital's emergency department for further evaluation.
Exams and Tests
X-ray films help the doctor to determine if the bone has suffered a crack or break. Imaging studies may also help the doctor to see any foreign debris in the cut (laceration).
Mallet Finger Treatment Self-Care at Home
- Apply ice to the injured finger joint to reduce swelling and tenderness. Wrap ice in a towel; do not apply ice directly to skin. A bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel conforms nicely to the hand.
- Take care not to injure the finger even more.
- If a cut is also present, clean the cut under running water for a few minutes, then wrap the finger with clean gauze or a cloth. Apply a moderate amount of pressure to help stop any bleeding.
- If the finger is not broken or cut, or if only a small fracture is present, the doctor applies a splint to the end of the finger so it remains extended. With a splint, the outermost joint on the injured finger is not bendable, but the rest of your finger is bendable. This splint needs to be worn for at least 6 weeks, perhaps longer, to ensure that the tendon is given the best chance of healing.
- The doctor also repairs any cuts or damage to the skin. And, if necessary, the tendon may be stitched (sutured) to repair it.
- For pain relief, apply ice to the joint.