Mallet Finger

Last Updated March 2021 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

What is mallet finger?

Mallet finger is an injury to your fingertip. It is common in sports, especially baseball and basketball. Mallet finger usually happens when a ball hits the end of your finger. This can cause injury to tendons in the finger, which causes mallet finger.

Symptoms of mallet finger

Your finger may be painful, swollen, and bruised. You may also have trouble straightening it. When you do, the tip of your finger stays pointing down toward your palm.

What causes mallet finger?

Mallet finger most often happens when there is an injury to the tendon on the top or back side of your finger. Tendons attach muscles to bones. The tendon in the tip of your finger allows your fingertip to bend and straighten. When it is injured, you can’t straighten the fingertip anymore. The injury usually happens when the tendon is torn or stretched. It can also happen if the tendon is ripped off the bone or pulls a piece of bone away from the rest of the finger bone.

How is mallet finger diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose mallet finger by looking at your finger. They will ask what activity you were doing when you injured it. Your doctor may order X-rays to see if there is a break in the bone.

Can mallet finger be prevented or avoided?

Mallet finger is an accidental injury, so it can be hard to prevent it. It usually happens when playing sports. Practicing good sports safety is important.

Mallet finger treatment

If you have injured your finger and it is painful, swollen, or difficult to straighten, see your doctor right away. Delaying treatment can cause permanent damage or may make your injury more difficult to fix.

In most cases, your doctor may tell you to put ice on the injury to prevent swelling. He or she will provide a splint for your finger. This will keep your finger from bending while it heals. It is important to remember not to bend your fingertip at all until it is completely healed. You may need someone to help you change your splint. If your injury is more severe (for example, if a bone is broken or a joint is out of place), you may need surgery.

In most cases, pain from mallet finger can be treated using over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Living with mallet finger

If you’ve only stretched the tendon, you will wear a splint all the time for 4 to 6 weeks. If it is torn or pulled off the bone, you will wear a splint all the time for 6 to 8 weeks. After that, you’ll wear the splint at bedtime for an additional 2 to 3 weeks.

You should be able to resume normal activities right after treatment. Most people can still play sports with a finger splint. Your doctor will let you know when it’s safe to play sports without a splint.

Sometimes even with treatment, your fingertip could still have a slight tilt to it.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is the best treatment option? Do I need to wear a splint?
  • How long before I can expect relief from my symptoms?
  • When can I return to my sport/activity?
  • How do I prevent a similar injury in the future?
  • What should I do if the pain and/or swelling gets worse?