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Mallet Finger

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Mallet finger is a condition where the finger bends and cannot straighten itself. One can push the joint to appear straight, but it cannot hold on in this position, once the support is removed.


The term mallet finger refers to the disruption of the terminal extensor mechanism that occurs at the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. This type of injury is very common in athletes. It can also occur in non-athletes, if the finger suffers from a trauma due to an accidental injury.

Mallet finger leads to damage of the DIP joint and the tendon attached to the small bone underneath gets injured. In some cases, the tendon may pull the bone along with it. This causes the finger to bend and fail to straighten up completely.

How Does a Mallet Finger Injury Look Like?

A mallet finger sign and symptoms include severe pain in the finger. The finger appears swollen around the DIP joint. The end of the finger will droop significantly, but will not straighten up on its own. At times, one may notice blood under the nail or the nail getting detached from the base of the nail.

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How Does Mallet Finger Occur?

In case of mallet finger, it occurs due to an injury to in the exterior tendon present on the back of the finger. This tendon helps the finger straighten up. There are several attachments on the back of the finger that pass beyond the last knuckle to allow the last finger joint to straighten. In case of injury to this tendon, the finger loses its ability to straighten up and remains bent.

This injury is very common during sports, especially when catching a ball. It is, therefore,also referred to as baseball finger. In some cases, the cause is very trivial like the finger getting stuck in a coat or hitting your finger accidently on the door, etc.

How is a Mallet Finger Diagnosed?

A physical examination of the injury is carried out and an X ray taken. The X ray will help rule out fractures and show any misalignment occurring within the joint.

What is the Treatment for Mallet Finger?

In most cases, the treatment offered is non-surgical in nature. When there is no fracture and just the tendons are ruptured, splinting of the finger for at least 6 weeks continuously is carried out. The splint should never be removed before the completion of 6 weeks. Or else, one has to start the process of splinting all over again.

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Even homemade splints are useful to hold the finger in place. There are many splints available in the market that make it easy to wear a splint continuously. In case the person has to continue working with the fingers, a metal pin may be placed inside bone across the DIP joint. This pin acts as an internal splint and will allow the person to continue to use their affected hand. After 6 weeks, the pin is removed from the finger.

In some rare cases, surgery is required, when the nonsurgical treatment fails or the finger droops too much. A surgery will help fix the tendon or place the joint back in its place with the help of a metal pin. In case of fracture along with mallet finger, surgery is carried out for pinning the fracture. When the damage is beyond repair, finger joint fusion will help bind two joint surfaces of the finger together. This will ease the pain, make the joint stable as well as to prevent joint deformity.

Mallet finger takes about 6 to 8 weeks to heal. One should be careful about the skin under their splint. In case one observes skin problems, speak to the doctor and try a different or new splint. At times, the other joints in the finger may become stiff due to continuous splinting. If you cannot straighten your finger without support and develop severe pain and swelling, visit the doctor immediately. Simple splinting will help treat mallet finger as well as prevent any joint deformity from occurring.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: January 30, 2015

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