What is a Mallet Finger?
Mallet finger, also known as “baseball finger,” occurs when the tendon that straightens the tip of the finger (usually the middle, ring, or small) is torn or ruptured. The injury is typically caused by an object, such as a ball, hitting the tip of the finger. The most noticeable symptoms are drooping of the fingertip and inability to straighten without assistance. Additional symptoms may include pain, swelling, and/or bruising.
What Causes Mallet Finger?
Mallet finger is caused by an injury to the extensor tendon at the DIP joint, the joint closest to the tip of the finger. It can be caused by a laceration to the end of the finger, but more commonly occurs due to direct trauma to the fingertip. This injury frequently appears in athletes, when a ball strikes the tip of the finger, violently flexing it and rupturing the tendon. In severe cases, the trauma may also fracture the bone of the fingertip, resulting in an injury called a “bony mallet finger.”
Who is at Risk for Mallet Finger?
Athletes who participate in sports involving the throwing of a ball are at increased risk of injuring their DIP joint, resulting in mallet finger. This injury can happen to anyone when an unyielding object (like a baseball) strikes the tip of a finger or thumb and forces it to bend further than it is intended to go.
How is Mallet Finger Diagnosed?
The diagnosis is evident by the appearance of the finger. Dr. Donnelly will usually be able to diagnose mallet finger with a physical examination. However, x-rays may be taken to determine if a piece of bone pulled away with the tendon (avulsion fracture), and to see if the joint is aligned.
When left untreated, mallet finger can result in deformity of the joint due to improper healing. In most cases, mallet finger can be treated using non-surgical methods. However, depending on the severity of the injury and whether or not the bones of the fingertip have been damaged, a physician may recommend surgery to reconstruct the joint.
In the majority of cases the condition is treated without surgery using a small finger splint. When properly and consistently worn, the splint holds the fingertip straight, which gives the tendon time to heal. After about eight weeks of splinting, the injury is re-evaluated and, depending on the amount of healing that has taken place, the splint may be removed. Many different types of splints are available, and the “right one” is individualized to the patient.
Surgery is reserved for patients who have a displaced fracture or joint that needs to be realigned. Alternatively, in rare instances, if it is not feasible to wear the external splint, a surgery using a small pin to keep the finger straight may be performed.
Non-surgical splinting of mallet finger typically lasts for about eight weeks. Sutures will need to be removed about ten days after the surgical repair of this injury. Post-surgical recovery time will then be determined by Dr. Donnelly based upon the severity of the injury.