Background: Mallet finger, also called drop or baseball finger, is where the end of a finger cannot be actively straightened out due to injury of the extensor tendon mechanism. Treatment commonly involves splintage of the finger for six or more weeks. Less frequently, surgical fixation is used to correct the deformity.
Objectives: To examine the evidence for the relative effectiveness of different methods of treating mallet finger injuries.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Injuries Group trials register (November 2003), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2004), MEDLINE (1966 to February week 2 2004), EMBASE (1988 to 2004 week 8), other databases, reference lists of articles and various conference proceedings.
Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials evaluating different interventions, including no intervention, for treating mallet finger injuries.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently performed study selection, quality assessment and data extraction. Study authors were contacted for additional information.
Main results: Four trials were included. These involved a total of 278, mainly adult, participants with 283 mallet finger injuries. All four trials were methodologically flawed, including inadequate outcome assessment. Three trials compared different types of finger splints versus a standard Stack splint. One trial found a lower incidence of treatment failure in participants treated with a perforated custom-made splint. One trial found there were fewer complications in participants treated with a padded aluminium-alloy malleable finger splint; however, the incidence of treatment failure was similar in the two treatment groups. One trial evaluating the Abouna splint found a similar incidence of treatment failure in the two groups. However, the Abouna splint often needed replacing due to disintegration of its rubber cover and rusting of the exposed wires and was also less popular with participants. The fourth trial found no statistically significant differences between participants whose mallet finger was treated with Kirschner wire fixation and those with a Pryor and Howard splint. Similar numbers had complications in the two groups.
Reviewers' conclusions: There was insufficient evidence from comparisons tested within randomised trials to establish the relative effectiveness of different, either custom-made or off-the-shelf, finger splints used for treating mallet finger injury. There was a useful reminder that splints used for prolonged immobilisation should be robust enough for everyday use, and of the central importance of patient adherence to instructions for splint use. There was insufficient evidence to determine when surgery is indicated.