By Abby Sims
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When San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro was hit on his left pinkie finger by a fastball on Tuesday, the initial concern was if the injury was a fracture or ligament damage. The correct diagnosis? According to Giants beat reporter Andrew Baggarly, it is “mallet finger,” also known as “baseball finger.”
“Mallet finger” is an injury to the tendon that extends the finger. The tendon becomes elongated or ruptures in the region that controls the finger joint that is the furthest from the palm. This joint is known as the DIP, or distal interphalangeal joint. (The bones of the fingers are called phalanges, and “distal” means farthest out.)
Forced, or traumatic flexion (bending) of the joint is generally the cause of “mallet finger” injuries. Once the extensor tendon is damaged and can no longer actively extend the joint, the flexor tendon is unopposed. Without a functioning counterpart to create balance, the joint remains bent.
This type of injury often occurs along with a fracture, though Scutaro’s X-rays were reportedly negative. Had the fracture been an issue, Scutaro would likely require surgery. Treatment for an isolated “mallet finger” injury, however, generally only entails splinting the finger in an extended position for six to eight weeks. In some cases, the surgical repair is difficult regardless because the tendon is particularly frayed at the point of injury.
When a joint is severely deformed from a “mallet finger” injury, a secondary problem can occur at the adjacent joint — the PIP — or proximal interphalangeal joint (the one essentially in the middle of your fingers). This complication is called a swan neck deformity and results from the imbalance. A swan neck deformity entails hyperextension at the PIP with flexion of the DIP (view image).
Though you or I would be splinted and out of action, Mercury News reporter Alex Pavlovic reported that Scutaro is likely to try and play through the injury. Scutaro has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t use his pinkie much when hitting anyway, though he is well aware that the outcome of playing through this will more than likely be a permanent deformity.
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