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Mallet finger

What is a Mallet Finger?

Mallet finger is the deformity when you are unable to straighten the fingertip, it can be as simple as a small bend all the way up to a completely dropped fingertip. You may be able to notice a mallet finger if you have had a recent injury to the fingertip such as:

  • Knock
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling below the fingernail

What causes mallet finger?

A mallet finger is an injury to the last finger joint only and occurs when the tendon that holds the fingertip straight is torn, pulled away from the bone or cut through the skin. If a mallet finger is not managed it can progress to a swan neck deformity affecting the whole finger. This deformity, is where middle finger joint gradually bends backwards as the muscles and ligaments adjust to the fingertip bending forwards. It can lead to difficulty bending the finger in day-to-day activities and can look strange. A cut or laceration to the back of the finger can go straight through the tendon, therefore causing a mallet finger. It is more likely to sustain a mallet finger if your have weaken tendons from diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

How do I know if I have a mallet finger?

You may have a mallet finger if you finger is painful or swollen, but it may be neither of these. The tip of the finger will drop down because the tendon or bone is no longer connected. If your tendon has ruptured it may be relatively painless but if a piece of the bone is pulled off, it will normally be more swollen and sore.

Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose you if you have a mallet finger by looking at the appearance of the finger with the drop of the fingertip and you will need to explain the history of how the injury occurred. An X-ray used to see if the injury is an avulsion fracture or a tendon rupture. If the bone has been fractured it may also look like a mallet finger although different treatment techniques will be used.

How can physiotherapy help with a mallet finger?

Physiotherapy is effective for most people to achieve full movement, strength and function which can be done with correct splinting and physiotherapy treatment. If your fracture required surgery , physiotherapy is vital ensure the finger gets its movement back quickly and safely.

]Physiotherapy can help your recover if you have a mallet finger by assisting you with management of your condition. Your physiotherapist will be able to assist you by making a moulded thermoplastic splint to extend the finger in which will be worn full time for 6–8 weeks to allow the tendon or bone to heal back together. Your physiotherapist will give you tips on how to clean and look after your finger while wearing the splint.

How effective is physiotherapy for mallet finger injuries?

Physiotherapy is effective for most people to achieve full movement, strength and function which can be done with correct splinting and physiotherapy treatment although some patients may not get there finger completely straight.

What can I do at home?

It is important that you follow the instructions of your physiotherapist which means wearing the splint continuously to ensure you get the best treatment and result. Regular appointments with your physiotherapist will allow you to keep track of your progress and check your managing well with your splinting and your skin is in good condition.

How long until I feel better?

You will be wearing a splint full time for 6–8 weeks and then will be able to gradually start exercises and reduce wearing your splint. It takes approximately 3–4 weeks to regain maximal movement and strength of the finger. 

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

Back to Physiotherapy for Your Finger

Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.