Overview on mallet finger

A mallet finger is described as a deformity caused when a tendon is damaged. Once a ball or any object strikes the tip of the finger or thumb, the force will damage the thin tendon that is responsible for straightening the finger. The force from the blow can even pull away a piece of bone together with the tendon. Remember that the finger or thumb could not be straightened.

Important Information: The material posted on this page on mallet finger is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage fractures and misaligned joints register for first aid and CPR training with Vancouver First Aid.

What are the symptoms?

The affected finger is usually swollen, painful and bruised. The fingertip can droop evidently and the blood can gather under the nail occasionally. As for the nail, it might even detach from beneath the skin fold at the nail base.

Diagnosing and treatment of mallet finger

Mallet finger

The affected finger is usually swollen, painful and bruised.

In most cases, the doctor will request an X-ray to check for a fracture or misalignment of the joint.

Non-surgical treatment

Most cases of mallet finger can be managed without surgery. An ice pack must be applied right away and the affected hand should be elevated higher than the level of the heart. It is best to consult a doctor within a week after the injury especially if there is blood under the nail or if the nail is detached since this can indicate an open fracture or nail bed laceration.

The doctor will apply a splint to support the fingertip in a straight position until it heals. In most cases, the splint should be used all the time for eight weeks. After 3-4 weeks, most will steadily lessen the use of the splint. Even though the finger gains a certain degree of function and appearance, many do not regain full extension of the fingertip. Among children, mallet finger can involve the cartilage that is responsible for controlling bone growth. The doctor will carefully assess and manage this injury so that the affected finger will not become deformed or stunted.

Surgical treatment

In some circumstances, surgical repair might be required when the mallet finger is accompanied by signs of outsized bony fragments or misalignment of a joint. In such cases, surgery is carried out to restore the fracture with the help of pins, wires and small screws. If the non-surgical treatments fail, surgery is the last resort that the doctor will recommend.

It is important to note that it is not common to manage a mallet finger with surgical intervention if the bone fragments are not present. Remember that this is usually done on those who have severe deformity or those who cannot utilize the affected finger properly. The surgery involves tightening the stretched tendon tissue, utilizing tendon grafts or fusing the joint straight.