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What is Mallet Finger?

Mallet finger is a condition in which the end joint of a finger bends but will not straighten by itself. The fingertip can be pushed straight but will not maintain that position on its own. This occurs when the extensor tendon in the finger is stretched or torn, or the bone attached to the tendon is broken (fractured).

This condition usually occurs when the tip of the finger is jammed against an object or there is a direct blow to the tip of the finger. This frequently happens while playing sports such as basketball or volleyball when the ball hits the tip of the finger. It may also be seen following a laceration to the top of the finger.

Mallet Finger Symptoms

Symptoms include the inability to straighten the fingertip on its own as well as associated swelling, redness and pain. Your doctor can usually make the diagnosis of mallet finger by examining your finger. An x-ray will be taken to determine if a fracture is present.

Common Treatments

In most cases, treatment involves splinting the fingertip to hold the end joint in hyperextension. This allows the tendon to heal properly. The splint is custom made by a hand therapist. It is worn at all times for 6-8 weeks. The hand therapist will usually make you 2 splints and will show you how to change splints after you bathe.

If the injury is associated with a broken bone or does not respond to splinting, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure. Most often a small pin is placed across the affected joint (this is left in only temporarily and is removed in the office after 6-8 weeks). Sometimes hand therapy is indicated following surgery. Your doctor will decide if this is necessary.

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