Mallet finger is when the tendon on the top of a finger or thumb is stretched or torn. This makes it hard to straighten. This injury sometimes includes a small fracture of the finger.
Bones, Tendons, and Muscles of the Hand
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The most common cause is when the tip of a finger is forcibly flexed or hit against a solid object, such as a ball. This causes the tendon to be torn and unable to fully extend the top of the finger or thumb.
This problem is more common in men and people who are middle-aged. People who play ball sports like baseball and basketball are also at higher risk.
Problems may be:
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the hand. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. Some people may need to see a doctor who treats hands.
Images may be taken to check for a fracture. This can be done with an X-ray.
It will take 6 to 8 weeks for most people to heal. The finger or thumb may always droop a little after the tendon heals. It should not affect function. The goals of treatment are to ease pain and swelling. This may include:
Some people may need surgery when other methods do not help the tendon. This is not common. It may be done to by taking a tendon from another place in the body and putting it in the finger. The joint can also be fused in a straight position.
People who have a fracture may need surgery. It is done using pins to hold the pieces of bone together as they heal.
There are no known guidelines to prevent this problem.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Physical Therapy Association.
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Rheumatology Association
Lamaris GA, Matthew MK. The diagnosis and management of mallet finger injuries. Hand. 2017; 12(3):223-228.
Leggit JC, Meko CJ. Acute finger injuries: part I. Tendons and ligaments. Am Fam Physician. 2006 Mar 1;73(5):810-816.
Mallet finger. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/mallet-finger. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed December 6, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 8/7/2020