A mallet finger is basically a finger deformity once a tendon is injured. In case a ball or an object hits the tip of the thumb or finger, the force injures the tendon that is responsible for straightening the finger. In some cases, the force from the blow can pull away a piece of bone together with the tendon, thus the affected finger could not be straightened.
Symptoms of a mallet finger
In most cases, the affected finger is swollen, painful and bruised while the tip of the finger tends to droop remarkably. Occasionally, the blood starts to collect at the base of the affected nail. There are also cases in which the nail is detached from the skin at the nail base.
How a mallet finger is diagnosed
If a mallet finger is suspected, a doctor will request an X-ray to determine if there is a severe fracture or possible joint misalignments.
Treatment for a mallet finger
Most of the cases of mallet finger injuries can be easily treated without requiring surgical intervention. An initial first aid measure is to apply ice right away to the affected finger while the hand is elevated higher than the level of the heart. It is best to seek medical care a week after the injury was sustained.
In case blood collects beneath the nail or the nail has detached, it is important to seek immediate attention. This can indicate a nail bed laceration or an open fracture.
The doctor will apply a splint on the affected fingertip to keep it straight until it heals completely. In most cases, the splint should be used all the time for 8 weeks. On the next 3-4 weeks, majority of individuals start to wear the splint less frequently. Even though the finger can regain its functionality and form with this mode of treatment, some might not restore full extension of the fingertip.
For children, this injury can involve the cartilage that is responsible for controlling the bone growth. The doctor should carefully assess and treat the injury so that the finger will not end up deformed or stunted in growth.
Surgical approach when treating a mallet finger
There are also cases in which a mallet finger would require surgical repair. Suitable candidates include individuals suffering from mallet finger injuries in which signs of joint misalignment or large fracture fragments are present. In such cases, surgery is required in order to fully repair the fracture with the help of pins, wire and screws. If the non-surgical treatments are not successful, surgery is the last resort.
Always remember that it is not considered common to deal with a mallet finger using surgery if the bone fractures or fragments are not present. This approach is typically used for individuals who have severe deformity or those who could not use the affected finger properly.