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Striking Out With Baseball Finger

  • Category: Hand & Wrist
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Tze C. Ip, MD

Nothing heralds the arrival of Summer more than baseball season. America’s favorite pastime is not only a popular spectator sport. More than 40 million Americans actively participate in softball and baseball leagues, leaving many weekend warriors exposed to potential injury.

A common condition that afflicts players is baseball finger. Also known as mallet finger, the injury occurs when the extensor tendon that serves to straighten the finger is damaged. It can be caused when a ball or other object strikes the tip of the finger or thumb, damaging the thin tendon. The force of the blow may even pull away a piece of bone along with the tendon, resulting in a digit that cannot be straightened.

How would you know if you’ve suffered this type of injury? The finger is usually painful, swollen, and bruised. The fingertip may droop noticeably. Blood may collect beneath the nail and cause it to be detached from the skin at the base of the nail. Injured players should seek medical attention within a week after injury—or immediately if there is blood beneath the nail or if the nail is detached. This may be a sign of nail bed laceration or open (compound) fracture.

Simple X-rays can usually determine if a major fracture or misalignment of the joint has occurred. Most baseball finger injuries can be treated using conservative measures. The doctor may apply a splint to hold the fingertip straight for a period of six to eight weeks. Although the finger usually regains an acceptable function and appearance, many patients may not regain full fingertip extension.

Surgical repair may be considered when injuries involve large fracture fragments or joint misalignment. In these cases, surgery is done to repair the fracture using pins, pins and wire, or even small screws. Fortunately, these cases are rare.

If you suspect you have suffered this type of injury, seek evaluation immediately. More than likely, your doctor can help get you back on the field before the Boys of October take their final bow.