A mallet finger, sometimes called “baseball finger” because it can be common in baseball players, is a deformity of the finger typically caused by injury. You may have a mallet finger if you’ve recently jammed, cut, or broken your fingertip. Most likely, a hard object like a ball struck the tip of your finger or your finger was bent forcefully when lifting a heavy object or performing a daily task. A mallet finger can happen to anybody. You may have simply been washing dishes and bent your finger in the wrong way.
These are some signs that you may have mallet finger:
The end joint of the finger, just before the fingernail, droops and looks crooked.
The fingertip cannot straighten on its own.
The injured finger has the appearance of a mallet or hammer.
A bump has appeared just below the nail on the back of the finger.
The finger is swollen.
The finger is bruised.
There is blood beneath the fingernail.
The fingernail has detached from the nailbed at the base.
If any of the symptoms on this list apply to you, you may have a mallet finger and should seek medical attention within the first few days to prevent further complications. A hand surgeon is the best person to see for a mallet finger. Find a hand surgeon near you.
There are two types of mallet fingers:
A rupture: This type of mallet finger means there is an injury to your extensor tendon. It may happen from an injury like jamming or cutting the finger or may happen from a condition like arthritis that can worsen and stretch out the tendon over time.
A broken bone: When you break a finger bone, the bone attached to extensor tendon breaks off.
Most of the time, surgery is not needed to treat a mallet finger. Sometimes, at-home treatments will be recommended by your hand surgeon. For example, if there's no cut, ice and/or elevation (putting the fingers toward the ceiling) can be used to bring down the swelling. The finger can be taped straight with a makeshift finger splint (using a popsicle stick, for example) or with a finger splint purchased from a drug store (see more on splints). If this is done at home, the tape should be loose enough that you can still feel the finger. It is ideal to begin splinting right away, but splinting can still be a successful treatment option if it is started later. Your doctor and/or hand therapist can give guidance. You may be given finger exercises to try at home after splinting to make sure that your finger regains all functionality and looks normal. Keep in mind that there may be some droopiness to the finger that does not go away.
If your mallet finger is severe, such as there is exposed bone or your cut is so deep that it has injured a tendon, it should be treated urgently to prevent infection and long-term damage. If you can see the bone or suffered a deep cut, visit the emergency room. Mallet fingers that are left untreated will be painful, may not function properly, and may result in a permanent droop to the finger.
Your surgeon may recommend surgery for a mallet finger injury that is severe and cannot be treated with some of the methods listed above or if other treatment options did not work. Discuss your treatment options with your hand surgeon. Learn more about mallet finger.