Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Mallet finger

Matimati kuru

Mallet finger is the name for an injury that results in the tip of your finger bending downward, so you can no longer straighten it.

Mallet finger can happen to anyone when something hard, like a ball, hits the tip of their finger, forcing it to bend further than it would naturally.

The force of this injury pulls or tears the tendon running along the top of your finger (the extensor tendon). As a result, you cannot pull your finger straight again.

Diagnosing a mallet finger

If you have a mallet finger, the end of your finger will droop and will only straighten if you push it up with your other hand. It will probably be painful, swollen and bruised.

Your general practice team or physiotherapist will examine your finger, then hold it and ask you to try to straighten it. You'll probably have an X-ray to check whether you've broken a bone, or the joint has been pulled out of alignment.

Treating a mallet finger

A mallet finger is usually treated with a splint that holds your finger straight and lets the tendon (and sometimes a small piece of bone) heal. You need to wear the splint all the time for six to eight weeks to prevent your finger developing a permanent droop.

While you're wearing the splint, it's important to take it off at least twice a day to wash and dry your finger thoroughly.

You must take the splint off in a special way, so the end of the finger is not allowed to droop. You can follow the instructions here as well as resting the end of your finger on a table edge to help keep it up when the splint is off.

Gather together what you need to wash and dry your finger before taking the splint off: tape, wet flannel and towel. If your skin is getting moist and white looking, wiping it with surgical spirits may help to dry it.

When the splint was first put on, the hand therapist or nurse will have applied some white tape that helps to keep your finger straight while you have the splint off to clean your finger and dry it.

They will also have shown you how to replace the tape when you need to.

When sliding your finger back into the splint, make sure you push your finger into the end, then retape it as the picture shows. Make sure the tape doesn't go over the second joint in your finger, as your finger will become stiff if this happens.

After you've had your splint on for one week, you'll have an appointment to check that it's fitting properly. You'll usually need to wear the splint all the time for six to eight weeks then gradually remove it.

Surgery for mallet finger

It is not common to have surgery for mallet finger, but occasionally it's needed if the joint is out of alignment or there are large fragments of broken bone. In these cases, a surgeon puts pins in to hold the pieces of bone together while they heal.

On the next page: Gradual removal of a mallet splint

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.


Page reference: 33048

Review key: HIWAH-240323