David M. Kalainov, MD a * [MEDLINE LOOKUP] Peter E. Hoepfner, MD, MBA a [MEDLINE LOOKUP] Brian J. Hartigan, MD a [MEDLINE LOOKUP] Charles Carroll IV, MD a [MEDLINE LOOKUP] James Genuario, MD b [MEDLINE LOOKUP]
Purpose Surgical repair of closed mallet finger fractures has been favored for displaced injuries involving more than one third of the articular surface and for injuries with palmar subluxation of the distal phalanx. This study analyzed the results of nonsurgical treatment for closed and displaced mallet finger fractures with greater than one-third articular surface damage, comparing cases with and without concomitant terminal joint subluxation.
Methods Twenty-two closed mallet finger fractures in 21 patients who were treated nonsurgically and involving more than one third of the articular surface were reviewed retrospectively. The patients were treated by continuous extension splinting of the distal interphalangeal joint for a mean of 5.5 weeks. The average patient age at the time of injury was 35.2 years, with a mean delay to treatment of 21 days. Nine cases showed a reduced distal interphalangeal joint at presentation (type IB) and 13 cases showed palmar subluxation of the distal phalanx (type IIB). Complications from splinting were limited to 2 cases of transient skin irritation. All patients returned for new finger radiographs and completed a survey to assess pain, function, and satisfaction at an average of 24.5 months after injury.
Results Patients expressed negligible pain, minimal difficulties with activities of daily living and work, relatively high satisfaction with finger function and treatment outcome, but only marginal satisfaction with finger appearance. The differences between type IB and type IIB cases were not significant. The resultant terminal joint extensor lag improved in both groups. Moderate and large joint prominences, swan-neck deformities, and moderate arthritis were seen more commonly in type IIB cases but the differences between groups were not significant.
Conclusions This study supports the rationale for nonsurgical treatment of closed and displaced mallet finger fractures with greater than one-third articular surface involvement. Pain likely will be negligible and patient satisfaction with finger function and treatment outcome is projected to be relatively high at 2-year follow-up evaluation. A dorsal joint prominence, terminal joint extensor lag, swan-neck deformity, and degenerative joint changes, however, may develop, particularly in cases with palmar subluxation of the distal phalanx.
The Journal of Hand Surgery. May 2005 Volume 30 Number 3.