What Is Mallet Finger and How Can I Treat It?

Damage to your finger’s extensor tendon, the mechanism that allows your finger to straighten, causes a permanent bend called mallet finger. It occurs when your finger hits a hard object and forcibly bends. 

The tendon tears and the finger can no longer straighten. In some cases, a piece of bone may also pull away as a result of the impact.

You may hear mallet finger referred to as “baseball finger,” but the blow of any unyielding object can injure a finger or your thumb. Mallet finger causes immediate pain and swelling and long-term dysfunction and deformity. 

But our expert orthopedists at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists can help. With splinting and sometimes surgery, patients in the Bethesda and Germantown, Maryland, areas can get relief from mallet finger and have full function and appearance restored.

Mallet finger means you’ve damaged tendon

Your fingers and thumb contain many bones and tendons that work to straighten these digits. The flexor tendons are on the palm side of your hand and bend your fingers. The extensor tendons are on the top side of your hand and straighten your fingers and thumb. 

During a mallet injury, an object hits the tip of your finger or thumb, tearing the extensor tendon. Sometimes, even a minor incident, like tucking in a bedsheet, can cause mallet finger.

Mallet finger needs immediate care

Symptoms of mallet finger include:

You can't straighten the finger on your own. It only straightens if you push it up with your other hand.

Ice the finger immediately, as this helps reduce the pain and swelling. And keep the finger elevated above your heart. Reach out to us within a week of injury — the sooner the better, really. If it’s been longer than that, we will still be able to help, but timely treatment is most likely to help you achieve full healing.

If you notice blood beneath the nail or the nail has detached, call our office right away. These symptoms signal a cut in the nail bed or a broken finger bone, which needs immediate treatment to avoid infection.

Medical treatment for mallet finger

The orthopedists here at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists usually splint a mallet finger to restore its normal position. The splint holds the joint straight, and you wear it 24 hours a day for six weeks, but some patients may need to wear it for longer. This treatment usually restores full function and appearance of the finger.

If you had a rare misalignment of the bones of the finger joint, hand and upper extremity expert Peter Fitzgibbons, MD, may need to perform surgery to place pins that return the joint to normal positioning. During another procedure 4-6 weeks later, he removes the pins and you undergo physical therapy with our certified hand therapist.

In the rare case that a splint or pinning doesn’t heal your mallet finger, we may conduct surgery to repair your damaged tendon. This may involve tightening the stretched tissue or fusing the joint straight.

If you’ve injured your finger or hand, don’t hesitate to call us at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists. You can also use our online booking system. Quick intervention gives you the best option for healing.

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