Column: Mallet finger: causes, symptoms, treatment

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Commentary by Joseph Hui, MD, and Lori Cain, OT

“I thought I just jammed it when the basketball hit the tip of my finger.” “I was just pulling the sheets off the bed and felt a pop.” “I believed I just sprained it and it would get better.” “The hammer hit my fingertip instead of nail, and I thought I just smashed it and it would be fine in a few days.”

The above are all comments heard from patients that were later diagnosed with a mallet-finger injury. Mallet finger is an injury to the extensor tendon that straightens the end joint of your finger resulting in the inability to straighten the finger. It may be the result of tendon damage with no fracture present or you could have a fracture as a result of the ruptured tendon.

If you have an injury and find you’re unable to straighten the tip of your finger, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible. The sooner you’re diagnosed and splinted in the appropriate position, the better your potential to heal. If you have an injury that you suspect is mallet finger, first you should ice and elevate your hand to keep swelling down. Second, try to find something to splint your finger straight until you’re able to see an orthopedic physician or go to the emergency department.

Occupational therapy is often ordered post diagnosis to fabricate a custom splint to place your finger in hyperextension to maximize healing potential. After healing, occupational therapy can help to provide education and/or home exercises to regain motion and functional strength.

If you can’t straighten the tip of your finger, have it checked out as soon as possible rather than just thinking it’s smashed, sprained or jammed. That is the key to this injury and to maximizing full use of your finger again.

For any sports medicine questions you’d like to see covered in the next article, be sure to email AskHui@riverview.org.

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