What is Trigger Finger?

May 12, 2017

You’ve just finished a construction project around the house and feeling really good that you’ve been able to get it behind you. But, a few days after finishing, you are starting to notice that your hands are stiff in the mornings when you get up. The warm water from the shower makes it feel better for a short time, but it is taking longer and longer for the finger (usually the ring or long finger or thumb) to get it to moving normally. Now there’s a knot at the base of the stiff finger. What is it?

Most likely you are experiencing the symptoms of trigger finger/thumb. What exactly is trigger finger? No, you don’t have to shoot a gun to get it. It is a painful condition that can occur from overuse or from an underlying medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or diabetes. Farmers, industrial workers, and musicians are more likely to have the problem. It is more common in women than in men.  People between the ages of 40 to 60 are the ones who are most experience these symptoms.

The physiology behind the symptoms is that the usually easily gliding tendons have become inflamed and are rubbing the tendon sheath that covers the tendon. The longer the symptoms occur, the more irritated and swollen the finger becomes. Prolonged irritation can produce scarring that can slow down the tendon’s movement. Bending the finger pulls the inflamed tendon through a narrowed tendon sheath, making it snap or pop.  It is possible for the finger to actually lock in a bent or straight position. Forcing the finger to move to a different position can be very painful.

What is the recommended treatment? Resting the finger with a splint that immobilizes one joint in the finger can be very effective but can take 6 weeks for symptoms to resolve. Over the counter anti-inflammatories are helpful. Your doctor may suggest a steroid injection to calm the inflammatory process.  If none of these more conservative methods work, the surgeon may suggest surgery to remove the restriction in the tendon sheath. Sutures are in place for two weeks and then you are able to begin returning to regular daily activities.

To prevent the symptoms from occurring in other digits, avoiding tight gripping that is repetitive and/or prolonged. Build up grips on tools to make them more comfortable and unnecessary to grip so tightly. Take breaks from what you are doing whenever possible, and stretch the fingers. Take care of any underlying health issues and drink plenty of water.

Take care of your hands! They need to last you a lifetime!

Jennifer Durham M. Ed., OTR/L, CHT

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