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Mallet finger injuries

What is a mallet finger?

A mallet finger is an injury to the end of the finger that causes it to bend inwards towards the palm and prevents it from being straightened. This is because the tendon that usually straightens the fingertip has stretched or torn. It may also be painful and swollen.

Cross section image of a finger and bone with a mallet finger injury

What causes a mallet finger?

Mallet finger is a common injury which often happens when playing sport. When a ball or other object hits the tip of the finger it forcibly bends it. The force tears the tendon that straightens the finger. The force of the blow may even pull away a flake of bone along with the tendon (an X-ray will show this).

What is the treatment for mallet finger?

The treatment for mallet finger is usually a plastic splint. The splint keeps the finger still and straight. It also keeps the two ends of the tendon as close as possible. This helps the tendon to heal by itself. This treatment is also suitable for small fractures. Large fractures may require an operation.

The splint will be taped on, and must be worn 24 hours a day for 6 to 8 weeks. You should only remove it for cleaning purposes at least once a day (see next section).

It is very important that your finger tip doesn’t bend during the time it is splinted as this may delay healing and reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.

You may also take pain relief such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. You can find some more information about this here: Paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Keeping your finger and splint clean

You must keep your splinted finger clean and dry at all times. This will help to prevent the skin inside the splint becoming sore. To wash your finger and splint follow the instructions below.

  1. Lay your finger palm down, on a flat surface, cut the tape, and slide off the splint.
  2. Using soap and water wash and then dry your finger and splint. Remember to keep the end joint straight at all times by keeping your finger flat. You may find it easier if someone helps you to do this as any movement of the end of your finger will delay the healing of the tendon and may cause permanent damage.
  3. Reapply the splint by sliding the splint back over the fingertip, ensuring you still keep the the finger straight.
  4. Finally, secure the splint by replacing the strapping. This should cover the middle of the splint, but not the middle joint of the finger, allowing it to bend freely.

This video shows how to take off and clean your splinted finger safely.

Recovery

It should take 6 to 8 weeks for your finger to heal. After this time you’ll be able to use it again. You will be offered an appointment for 6 weeks from when the injury happened to see a doctor in the Emergency Department.

Information:

You should avoid sports involving the hands while your injury is healing.

The middle joint of the finger is left free so you can continue to move it to prevent any stiffness developing. However, do not try to test for healing by bending the fingertip.

You may find redness, swelling or tenderness of the skin of the fingertip for three or four months after your injury but this usually settles. There may be a small bump on the top of the joint or you may be unable to fully straighten the joint. Your finger may not be exactly the same as it was before the injury, but overall it should function well.

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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

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Western Bank
Sheffield
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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