mallet finger

When you have a mallet finger, you can't straighten your fingertip joint.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You hit your finger and now the tip won’t straighten back out. You can straighten it using your other hand, but when you let go, the tip just droops back again like it’s no longer a part of you.

That’s why some people call this injury a “drop finger.” Others call it a mallet, hammer, or baseball finger because something like one of those things hits your fingertip while the finger is in an outstretched, pointed position. This involuntarily flexes the fingertip joint and injures the tendon. The same thing happens when the tip of your outstretched finger hits something hard and head-on. Sometimes the tendon can even be pulled from its attachment to the bone.

The reason I bring this up is you have to treat a mallet finger just right  if you ever want all your fingers to point in the same direction again. Of course, see a doctor if you can. But if you can’t, the key to treating a mallet finger is splinting the joint straight and continuously for eight weeks.

How to Splint a Mallet Finger

You don’t want any bend in the joint. Take a strip of metal, or a wooden stick, and tape it to the upper (fingernail) side of the injured joint. Make the splint short enough so you’re not splinting any other joints.

If you have to change the splint during the next eight weeks, hold the finger straight while you do it, or place the finger, palm down, on a hard surface.  Otherwise, the tip will flop back down and possibly re-injure the healing tendon or bone.

Sometimes, a mallet finger will heal sooner than eight weeks, but, if you can’t see an expert for evaluation and X-ray, it’s better to err on the conservative side.

What to Do After the Eight-Week Splinting

Test it. Make sure the finger stays straight without support. Don’t worry about getting full flexion back into it for a couple more weeks. In fact, even if it’s doing well, you may want to splint it at night for an extra couple of weeks. Then you can try to get the full grip back by practicing squeezing that ball that did you in in the first place. Well, really a softer ball is better for squeezing, but use what you’ve got.

Mallet finger, baseball finger, hammer finger—the names all have a working person’s ring to them. The next tendon injury I’ll cover has a more dainty name but can be more debilitating.