When the extensor tendon is injured as a result of injury or sudden force, the fingers are unable to fully straighten.

Extensor Tendon Injury

Orthopaedics Infoline

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What is an extensor tendon injury?

The extensor tendon plays an important role in that it allows you to fully straighten your fingers and thumb. It runs along the back of the hand and continues through to the ends of your fingers. As extensor tendons sit just under the skin, they are extremely vulnerable to injury either from a knock, a cut or extreme force. 

Any kind of impact can cause the thin tendons to rip away from the bone leaving the finger unable to fully straighten. Symptoms include an inability to fully straighten the finger, pain and swelling in the fingertip, a cut to the hand or the end of the finger drooping down. Mallet finger is a common example of an extensor tendon injury. With this type of injury, medical treatment is necessary to return functionality to the tendon. Without treatment, the extensor tendon injury will prevent the joint from fully straightening and can cause ongoing deformity and joint stiffness.

How is it treated?

After a thorough physical examination, X-Ray imaging is sometimes used to help diagnose the condition. If the impact was caused by a jamming type of injury, the finger may be placed in a splint to prevent the ends of the tendons from pulling apart. 

A full recovery may take up to 12 weeks, wearing a splint at all times. In more complex extensor tendon injuries, a temporary pin is inserted into the joint to stabilise the area while it heals. This is followed by hand therapy to restore strength to the joint and help restore the range of motion. If the tendon has been completely cut, it may need tendon repair surgery. Partially cut tendons can usually heal well without surgery.  

How long does it last?

If surgery is required after extensor tendon injury, the recovery period can take up to 12 weeks. Hand therapy forms a crucial part of the recovery process as it restores the range of motion and prevents stiffness. Without surgery, a recovery can take between 8-12 weeks using a splint.

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