Baseball finger, also known as “mallet” finger, is a finger injury which involves damage to the extensor tendons used to straighten the finger. In a patient with baseball finger, the finger is bent and cannot be straightened. The classic cause of this injury is a “jam,” in which the finger is forcibly bent by being slammed into something, or by having something such as a baseball slam into it. This condition is very treatable.
At the time of injury, people usually experience significant pain in the “jammed finger”. Sometimes baseball finger is accompanied by a fracture, which may be closed or open. It is not uncommon for the tip of the finger to swell and bruise, and sometimes people lose their nails or develop blotches of blood under the nail. The involved finger can be hot and tender, and moving it is usually painful.
In many cases, baseball finger can be treated with ice, elevation, and splinting. Ice and elevation keep the swelling down, which will increase patient comfort while the finger heals. Splinting the finger will support healing and reduce strain on the finger. It is important that patients use the splint as directed; even though it can be annoying and sometimes painful, the splint should not be removed until it is safe to do so, or healing may be impaired.
There are also surgical management options available. Surgery may be recommended when the finger is broken, is not responding to treatment, or appears to be severely injured. A hand and wrist specialist can perform the surgery to repair the injury. Splinting is usually needed after surgery to keep the finger immobile while it heals.
It can take several weeks for the finger to fully heal, and during the healing phase, people should take care to avoid re-injury of the damaged finger. The finger can also be vulnerable to damage in the future, and it’s important to gently stretch and flex the finger after healing to redevelop strength.
Often, people can treat a baseball finger at home with ice and splinting. However, if the finger is extremely painful or does not respond to treatment, medical attention should be sought. It is possible that the finger might be fractured or that more aggressive treatment might be needed. It is especially important to see a doctor if signs of infection set in, or if feeling is lost in the tip of the finger.