Any hand injury or illness can be a burden, but conditions affecting the fingers can be particularly annoying. The ability to use your hand with full function but with the inability to bend, extend or maneuver a finger properly can render an otherwise healthy hand, completely useless. One of these finger deformities in particular, is Mallet Finger (or sometimes called Baseball Finger). In this post we will be outlining:
- What is Mallet Finger and how does it differ from Trigger Finger?
- What are the symptoms?
- What can be done to treat it?
About Mallet Finger
Mallet Finger is a condition affecting the extensor tendon at the tip of the finger (or thumb), preventing the digit from straightening completely. This is caused by an injury rather than an illness or degenerative condition, arising when a force (usually a blunt object) hits the tip of an extended finger, i.e. when you jam your finger. This injury is commonly seen in baseball and basketball players, caused by the extended fingers outreached to catch a ball. When the tip of the finger is hit, access pressure is put on the extensor tendon, causing it to rip. In some cases, the bone at the tip of the finger may also be affected. This condition is characterized by a finger that is otherwise straight, but bent at the first joint at the tip of the finger with the inability to straighten.
You may be thinking, isn’t this the same as Trigger Finger? While the two conditions share a similar look, Mallet Finger and Trigger Finger are actually quite different disorders.
- Mallet Finger is caused by injury, rather than overuse like Trigger Finger.
- With Trigger Finger, the tissue surrounding the tendon becomes inflamed or thickened, causing the bent finger position. With Mallet Finger, the tendon is ruptured.
- Mallet Finger only disrupts the tip of the finger (first joint); whereas Trigger Finger affects multiple finger joints.
- Treatment options can be different for the two conditions as well due to how the tendons are affected.
Mallet Finger Symptoms
Like most hand and finger conditions, the first signs of injury are pain, swelling and bruising, paired with the inability to straighten the finger entirely. Depending on how badly the finger jammed at the time of injury, the fingernail may also be affected. In this case, it is important to clean and treat the area quickly, seeking medical attention to reduce the risk of infection.
Everyone has gotten their finger jammed at some point while playing basketball or when reaching to catch an object. In most cases, the pain subsides quickly and we go about our day. However, if the pain continues and the bend in the finger persists, it’s time to go see a doctor. Your hand specialist will perform a physical examination of your finger as well as take x-rays to check if a fracture has occurred. In children, hand specialists pay extra attention to the injury to ensure the finger grows properly and does not lead to a defect later in life. Most of the time, your doctor will be able to correct the issue without surgery. Conservative treatments include the RICE method (Rest Ice Compress Elevate) as well as splinting. Specialized finger splints are used to keep the affected joint in a straight position while the tendon heals. Generally, the splint is kept on full time for a few months, then with the ability to taper use for a few weeks following. Splinting has a high success rate for creating a normal appearance and regaining full function, but this result can diminish the longer you wait to seek treatment. Your hand specialist may also recommend you see an Occupational Therapist after the injury has healed to restore full motion and use in the finger.
While surgery is less common, is can be a reality for those who experience a fracture in the Distal Phalanx (fingertip bone) or if the joint is displaced. In these instances, pins and wires are generally used to hold the bones in their proper place or if necessary, fusing the joint. Occasionally but rarely, surgery is also used to repair the ruptured tendon.
Are you suffering from Mallet Finger?
At Michigan Surgery Specialists, our highly-skilled hand surgeons are no strangers to common and complex hand injuries. Call your nearest location or request an appointment online to seek help for your hand, wrist or forearm injury!