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 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 while still being able to move it with help
When to Seek Medical Care
Call a doctor immediately to evaluate the injury to determine the need for X-rays and to repair any deep cuts. The doctor may recommend an appointment with a hand surgeon for further evaluation.
Your doctor may also tell you to go to a hospital's emergency department for evaluation.
Exams and Tests
X-rays help the doctor know if the bone has a crack or break. Imaging studies may also help the doctor see any foreign debris in the cut.
Mallet Finger Self-Care at Home
- If the finger is cut, clean the cut under running water for a few minutes. Then wrap the finger with clean gauze or a clean cloth. Apply a moderate amount of pressure to help stop any bleeding.
- Apply ice to the injured finger joint to reduce swelling and tenderness. Wrap ice in a towel. Do not apply ice directly to your 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 your finger is not broken or cut, or if only a small fracture is present, the doctor will apply 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. 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 will also repair any cuts or damage to the skin. And, if necessary, the tendon may be stitched to repair it.
For pain relief, apply ice to the joint.
A variety of over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers may be prescribed depending on other health conditions.
You may need to have surgery if the injury involves a large fracture that is causing tendon damage. A hand specialist or surgeon will perform this surgery.
A hand specialist may monitor the progress of the injury, especially if there is a likelihood of the finger being deformed. If a cut has been repaired, you may need to go back to the doctor in 10 days to have the sutures removed.
To prevent such injuries, take care when participating in activities, including athletic events. To prevent injuries from happening again to the same finger, leave the splint on for the entire time the doctor has recommended.
For More Information
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
9400 West Higgins Road
Rosemont, IL 60018-4262
Or visit the AAOS OrthoInfo web site at orthoinfo.aaos.org.