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Mallet finger is an injury characterised by a painful, swollen finger and a mallet finger deformity at the distal end of the finger. It occurs as a result of a rupture to the long tendon of the Extensor Digitorum, the muscle which straightens the finger, at the point where it inserts into the bone at the end of the finger (the distal phalanx). A piece of bone may also be pulled from the distal phalanx at the point of insertion.
Finger injuries are very common in most team and contact sports, and Mallet finger, also known as Baseball Finger, is particularly common in baseball, cricket, American football and rugby. It may also be the result of rheumatoid arthritis or any physical trauma to the end of a straightened finger.
In addition to swelling and pain, it will be characterised by a bent finger which can't be straightened on its own but which can be straightened with the other hand. An x-ray may be required to pick up bone avulsion.
A sports injury expert should be consulted if you think that you have Mallet finger or any similar finger injuries. Cold therapy, involving the regular application of cold packs, can help relieve pain. Wearing a finger splint will aid healing and protect against further finger injuries. Therapeutic putty will help with regaining dexterity, and finger stiffness can be reduced through the use of hand therapy balls. Resistance-band exercises will help improve grip and finger strength as part of the overall rehabilitation process.
Most Mallet finger conditions are treated with physiotherapy only in the later stages of healing. A splint should be worn continuously for the first six weeks. This will allow the tendon to heal and prevent further injury. The splint will need to be worn for some additional time but can be removed for physiotherapy once the six weeks are up. Exercises which promote strength and mobility to the injured finger, and which should be carried out several times each day, will be prescribed by the physiotherapist.
Surgery is seldom required, but if there has been avulsion of bone, wire pins will need to be inserted to hold the bone in place while it heals.
A mallet finger splint may help protect against further injury once normal activity has been resumed. It may be sensible to provide further support to the finger joints by taping them when engaging in sports such as baseball, rugby, cricket and American football, where Mallet finger or similar finger injuries are common. Due to a genetic weakness of the extensor tendon, some individuals may be more susceptible to Mallet finger than others. Those with a family history of mallet finger should carry out grip strength and finger exercises on a regular basis.