The Signs Behind Mallet Finger

Symptoms and diagnosis for mallet finger
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By Orthopaedic and Neurology Clinic Singapore

Mallet finger info

What is a mallet finger?

Commonly an athletic injury, mallet finger occurs when the outermost joint of the finger is injured. Basketball and baseball players routinely experience jammed fingers, but the injury can occur because of a crushing accident on the job or even because of a cut finger while working in the kitchen.

With mallet finger, the tendon on the back of the finger (not the palm side) is separated from the muscles it connects.

Three types of injuries commonly occur:

  • The tendon is damaged, but no fractures (bone cracks or breaks) are present.
  • Tendon ruptures with a small fracture caused by the force of the injury.
  • The tendon ruptures with a large fracture.

What are some symptoms of a mallet finger?

Your finger may feel painful after the injury, and your finger tip will droop. You’ll still be able to use your hand. However, pain is often associated with a bone fracture.

Other mallet finger symptoms are:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • tenderness
  • inability to straighten your fingertip unless you use your other hand to hold it up

If your nail is also injured and is detached from the nail bed or has blood under it, it may be a sign of a cut or a bone fracture. Therefore seek medical help as soon as possible, as there’s risk of infection.

“Mallet finger is a common injury caused when an impact damages the tendon of a fingertip. Most injuries can be successfully treated without surgery.”

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What types of diagnosis?

  • Our Orthopaedic specialist makes the diagnosis based on your medical history and a physical exam.

    He will be able to diagnose mallet finger by examining your dropped fingertip. The doctor may order an X-ray and possibly an MRI or ultrasound to see the extent of the injury to your tendon and bone.

    An X-ray will show the rupture of the tendon, any bone fracture, and whether the bone is out of alignment. 

Possible treatment methods?

The majority of mallet finger injuries can be treated without surgery. Medical attention should be sought within a week after injury. It is especially important to seek immediate attention if there is blood beneath the nail or if the nail is detached. This may be a sign of a nail bed laceration or an open (compound) fracture.

Common treatments include, but are not limited to:

  • Splints/ cast for mallet finger
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Changing your activity

If non-surgical treatments do not relieve the symptoms, surgery may be recommended. Surgical repair may be considered when mallet finger injuries have large bone fragments or joint mal-alignment. Such treatment of the damaged tendon can include tightening the stretched tendon tissue, using tendon grafts or even fusing the joint straight. Occasionally, hand therapy is required after surgery to regain better use.

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