A mallet finger involves injury to the tendon that straightens the tip of the finger. This type of injury can occur when the tip of the finger is jammed, forcing it to bend quickly and forcefully. Banging the tip of the finger while doing everyday tasks or having a ball hit the end of the finger while playing sports are common ways this injury can occur. The forceful bending causes a tear in the tendon or a small piece of bone can break off along with the tendon.
This injury can cause pain and swelling. Along with the pain and swelling, the tip of the finger rests in a bent position and the person is not able to straighten it. There may be bruising after this type of injury as well.
A mallet finger injury is most often treated with a small finger splint that keeps the tip of the finger straight. Keeping the tip of the finger straight for up to eight weeks allows the tendon to heal. The small splint can be provided by the doctor or can be custom made by a hand therapist.
If the injury involves a large enough piece of bone, surgery may be needed. Surgery to repair a mallet finger injury might include a temporary pin or a small screw to keep the finger straight. A small protective finger splint is worn after surgery as well.
While the tip of the finger is kept straight in a splint or through pinning, it is important to continue to move the middle joint of the injured finger . A hand therapist can provide instruction on safe exercises. When the injury is healed and the splint or pin is removed, the tip of the finger may feel stiff. Gaining motion back slowly is important. A hand therapist can provide instruction on safe exercises and can watch to make sure the tip doesn’t begin to droop again. Along with the doctor, a hand therapist also helps to decide the best time to stop wearing the splint.
When the splint is discontinued and motion is better, the hand can be used for everyday tasks.
Courtney Middleton OTD, OTR/L, CHT is a certified hand therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT).