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Mallet Finger

By Danielle Campagne, MD , University of San Francisco - Fresno

In Mallet finger, the fingertip curls down and cannot be straightened. It is usually caused by an injury.

Mallet finger usually results when the tendon that attaches bone to muscle in the fingertip is torn. This tendon (called the extensor tendon) is used to straighten the fingertip. A common cause is a baseball that hits the fingertip. Thus, mallet finger is sometimes called baseball finger.

One or more fingers may be affected. Sometimes the joint is also dislocated.

When the tendon tears, it may pull a piece of bone from the finger (called an avulsion fracture). When an avulsion fracture occurs, the cartilage at the end of the affected bone (the joint surface) is also fractured.

Mallet Finger

People with Mallet finger cannot straighten the end of their finger.

Symptoms

The finger is usually painful, swollen, and bruised immediately after the injury. The joint remains bent. The person cannot straighten it. Occasionally, blood collects under the nail (called a subungual hematoma—see Symptoms).

Diagnosis

  • Physical examination

  • X-rays to check for fractures

Doctors can usually diagnose mallet finger when they examine the finger.

X-rays are usually taken at several different angles to check for a fracture.

Treatment

  • A splint

Usually, doctors straighten the finger, then place a splint on it to hold it in a position that is bent slightly upward. The splint is worn for 6 to 8 weeks.

Rarely, when a fracture involves a large part of the joint surface or when the joint is dislocated, surgery is needed.

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* This is the Consumer Version. *