Mallet Finger: Causes, Symptoms, and Recovery Guide

An analysis of mallet finger, detailing its causes, symptoms, and the recommended therapeutic interventions for recovery.

Jul 2019

Table of contents

What is a mallet finger?

A mallet finger is when you cannot straighten out the tip of your finger. It usually occurs when a large force has been applied to the tip of your straight finger, causing the tendon that straightens your finger tip to rupture.

A laceration, disease or infection can also cause this tendon to rupture. It is common for a small part of the bone to be taken with the tendon. When this occurs it is called an avulsion mallet finger.

What may I experience?

  • Dropping of finger tip
  • Swelling
  • Pain

What should I do?

Keep your finger immobilised in a hyperextended splint for 6-8 weeks. For an effective hand therapy a custom made splint will be made for you with your finger in the correct position. It will need to be worn all the time.

The splint may need to be adjusted as the swelling reduces. Do not grip objects forcefully or put pressure through the tip of your finger during this time.

You will need to check the condition of your skin regularly. A bandage to reduce the swelling is also to be worn.

When the splint is removed, in therapy, your ability to straighten your finger again will be assessed. Your finger may be slightly stiff and therefore you may need some exercises to regain full movement & strength.

Tip of a finger unable to lift
Graphic of a finger with a ruptured extensor tendon
Mallet finger splint

What can I expect?

By following The Hands Physio recommendations and treatments your finger should recover fully and straighten again. Occassionally, a lag of less then ten degrees, or a stiff joint may occur. You should have full tendon strength by 10-12 weeks.

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