Key Points about Mallet Finger

  • Mallet finger occurs when an extended finger sustains a direct hit to the fingertip, causing the tendon to rupture.
  • Your middle, ring, and little fingers of your dominant hand are the fingers most likely to be injured.
  • People who play sports that require you to catch a ball such as football, baseball, basketball, and volleyball are more likely to develop mallet finger.
  • Your doctor can diagnose mallet finger after evaluating your symptoms, performing a physical exam, and reviewing any diagnostic imaging results.
  • Most cases of mallet finger can be treated with nonsurgical treatments. Some cases require surgery.

Overview

Mallet finger, also known as baseball finger, is an injury to the tendon at the end of the finger or thumb. Anyone can develop mallet finger if an object forcefully hits the tip of the finger or thumb and pushes it in an unnatural position. When this occurs, you may not be able to straighten your finger or thumb.

Mallet finger most frequently affects the middle, ring, and little fingers on the dominant hand. 

Mallet finger causes

Mallet finger is caused by a forceful, direct hit to an extended finger. When a hit occurs, the tendon that straightens the tip of the finger may rupture, preventing you from straightening your fingertip.

People who play ball sports such as baseball, football, basketball, or volleyball are most likely to develop mallet finger.

If you sustain an impact injury to your finger, the soft tissue of the tendon may tear or pull away from the fingertip bone. In rare cases, a bone fragment will pull away from the tendon.

Mallet finger symptoms

The main symptoms of mallet finger are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Dropping finger that can only be straightened by pushing it up with the opposite hand.

Mallet finger complications

If mallet finger is left untreated, you may experience finger deformity or inability to move the finger.

Treatment is especially important in children. If left untreated, a child’s finger can become deformed or not grow to normal length.

Mallet finger risk factors

Playing sports where you catch or hit a ball such as baseball, softball, volleyball, or dodgeball increases your risk of developing a mallet finger.

Mallet finger prevention

Protect your fingers and use caution with participating in ball sport activities or other activities where experiencing a mallet finger is more likely.

If your doctor has instructed you to wear a splint, wear the split for the entire prescribed time to protect the area from further damage.

Mallet finger diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose mallet finger. During a clinic visit, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound.


If your doctor suspects there are bone fragments in the affected area, an MRI or ultrasound will be more effective.

Mallet finger treatment

If you suspect you have mallet finger, run cold water over your finger for a few minutes, apply a clean cloth, and apply pressure. To reduce swelling or pain, apply ice to the injured area. Protect the area from further injury.

Many patients will only need a split as treatment. A splint will help hold the fingertip straight during the healing process. Your doctor will likely recommend wearing the splint full-time for up to eight weeks.

In severe cases where a fracture has caused the tendon damage, you may need surgery. Your orthopedic hand team will perform this surgery.

When to Seek Care

If you suspect you have mallet finger, call your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can determine if you need to go to the emergency room right away, or if you can schedule a clinic appointment.

If your injury is severe, your doctor may refer you to a hand orthopedic specialist for further care.

Next Steps

Before your clinic visit, take notes on your symptoms and when they started. If you have questions for your doctor, write those down before the visit as well.

If diagnosed with mallet finger, follow your doctor's treatment and recovery instructions carefully. If your symptoms worsen, call your doctor to evaluate your next steps.

Typically, mallet finger takes eight weeks to heal. If you are not following your doctor’s splinting instructions, it could take longer.

In some cases, it takes as long as four months for your finger to feel completely normal.