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Common sports injuries: mallet finger
Common sports injuries: mallet finger

By: Dr. Robert Bell


Have you ever seen a basketball player or quarterback jam their finger and the finger looks crooked? No, the finger isn’t broken or dislocated, but it’s obvious that the finger has an accordion-type shape from tip to hand. This is a condition called mallet finger and is more common than you might expect.

Mallet finger occurs “when the tendon that straightens your finger (the extensor tendon) is damaged.” (ASSH) When a player’s fingers collide with a fast-moving basketball or a football helmet, forcible contact of the fingertip can tear the extensor tendon that helps straighten the finger.

In some extreme cases, the force is strong enough to also detach some of the bone connected at the end of the extensor tendon. A torn extensor tendon renders the finger incapable of straightening on its own strength without the tendon’s support.

Symptoms and signs of Mallet Finger

A telltale sign of mallet finger is a drooping appearance of the fingertip. Additionally, concentrated pain, swelling, and even pooling blood under the fingertip are also often symptoms of mallet finger. Some patients who experienced severe mallet finger damage may also have a detached finger nail at the base of the skin.

Treatment options for Mallet Finger

If you experience a detached nail or blood pooling under your nail bed, seek immediate medical attention to ensure any serious damage is treated. If you suffer a mallet finger injury, apply ice at the first opportunity and elevate your hand to reduce swelling. Seek medical attention within a week of sustaining the injury.

The most important diagnosis is determining whether any bone was detached with the extensor tendon during injury impact. Your doctor may order x-rays to evaluate whether your joints are maligned or if any additional bone damage may have occurred. It’s only in extreme circumstances, such as maligned bones or joints, that surgery is required or if nonsurgical treatment methods prove to be unsuccessful.


Nonsurgical treatment for mallet fingers often includes the patient wearing a finger splint to keep the finger straight until the tendon heals. Most patients who suffer a mallet finger injury need to wear their splint between six to eight weeks. Your orthopedic hand specialist can show you a variety of physical therapy exercises to help you regain full extension of your finger over time.

If you recently suffered a mallet finger injury, your first step is to consult with a board-certified hand specialist through Orthopedic Associates. Click here to schedule an appointment with Orthopedic Associates.





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