While we may not be conscious of it, we use our hands for almost all of our routine daily activities: brushing our teeth, getting dressed, using our computer, making phone calls, driving, cooking meals, and in many of our leisure activities. Because we use our hands so often, it is important that we take good care of them. But during some activities, such as sports or exercise, or even everyday chores and housework, the hands and fingers can be struck and an injury can occur. One such injury is called “mallet finger.”
About Mallet Finger
Mallet finger, also sometimes called “baseball finger”, is a condition that limits a person’s ability to straighten the last joint of the finger. This condition is due to an injury to the extensor tendon – which is located on the back of the finger, away from the palm – at the tip of the finger. There are three main types of mallet finger:
• Injury to the tendon, with no damage to the bones of the finger
• Rupture of the tendon, with a small fracture
• Rupture of the tendon, with a large fracture
Mallet finger results from an impact to the end of the finger, forcing the tip of the finger to flex. This impact is common in sports like basketball, baseball, and volleyball where players’ fingers may be hit by the ball during play with high force or speed; however, this same sort of injury can also occur while on the job or while working around the home.
The force of the hit damages or ruptures the tendon that straightens the finger. In some cases, the impact is forceful enough to fracture the tip of the finger or cause the tendon to pull away a small piece of bone.
Mallet finger results in a swollen, painful, and bruised fingertip. The patient is not able to fully straighten the tip of the finger without help. Blood may collect under the fingernail, and in some cases, the skin may be cut and the fingernail could be partially detached from the force of the impact.
Diagnosing Mallet Finger
A person suffering an injury that results in symptoms similar to those of mallet finger should seek immediate medical attention. A doctor will perform a physical examination to assess the patient’s pain, swelling, and range of motion of the fingertip. He or she may take an X-ray to check for fractures to the bones of the finger.
Immediately following the injury, apply ice to the injured finger to reduce swelling. If the skin has been cut, clean any open wounds under running water and then bandage them to prevent infection or further bleeding. If a wound is severe, stitches might be necessary.
Upon diagnosis, a doctor will place the fingertip in a splint to hold the last digit straight. The splint is worn continuously, typically for six to eight weeks, to allow the tendon to heal. In many cases this treatment is effective and the finger will regain its normal function.
In cases where the tendon is severed or a major fracture has occurred, the doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery involves repairing the ruptured tendon and setting the fracture in order to restore the normal structure and function of the fingertip.
With proper medical care, mallet finger will usually heal with minimal lasting effects, and the patient can resume normal activities, including sports.
Mallet finger can affect anyone whose hands and fingers are subject to impact during the course of their daily activities, whether on the job or in athletics. While an injury resulting in mallet finger can be painful and cause serious damage, it is a treatable condition, and most patients heal completely if they are diagnosed and treated right away.