What Is Trigger Finger?
Trigger finger occurs when
tendons in the hand become inflamed, causing tenderness, pain, and deformity in
the hand. The condition limits a finger’s movement, making it impossible to
straighten the finger.
What Causes Trigger Finger?
Your fingers have several small
bones that are connected to muscles by tendons. When muscles contract or
tighten, tendons pull on your bones to move your fingers.
Long tendons, called flexor
tendons, extend from your wrist to the muscles and bones in your hands. Flexor
tendons slide through a flexor sheath, which is like a tunnel for the tendon.
If the tunnel gets narrower, your tendon cannot move easily. This is what
occurs in trigger finger.
When the tendon slides through
the narrowed sheath, it becomes irritated and swells. Motion becomes extremely
difficult. Inflammation may cause a bump to develop, which further restricts
movement. This causes your finger to stay in a bent position, and it is extremely
difficult to straighten.
Who Is at Risk for Trigger Finger?
Some people are more likely to
experience trigger finger than others. For example, it is more common in women
than in men (American
Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2010).
Other risks factors associated
with trigger finger include:
- being between the ages of 40 and 60
- having diabetes, hypothyroidism, or rheumatoid
- having tuberculosis
- performing repetitive activities that can strain
the hand, such as playing a musical instrument or repeatedly using hand tools
According to the Cleveland
Clinic, trigger finger most commonly affects musicians, farmers, and industrial
What Are the Symptoms of Trigger Finger?
Common early symptoms include:
- lingering soreness in the base of a finger or
- a bump or lump around the base of a finger near the
- tenderness around the base of a finger
- a clicking or snapping noise with movement
- stiffness in the affected finger
If left untreated, trigger finger
can progress. Advanced symptoms include
- a finger and/or thumb locked in a bent or
- being unable to uncurl the finger without using
the other hand
Symptoms tend to be worse in the
morning. The finger typically starts to relax and move more easily as the day
How Is Trigger Finger Diagnosed?
A doctor can commonly diagnose
trigger finger with a physical exam and some simple questions about medical
The doctor will listen for
characteristic clicking upon movement. They will look for the signature bent
finger. The doctor may also observe you opening and closing your hand. Diagnosis
will not typically require an X-ray or further imaging testing.
How Is Trigger Finger Treated?
Treatments depend on the severity
of the symptoms. At-home treatments include:
- taking a break from repetitive activities for
four to six weeks
- wearing a brace or splint to restrict motion and
rest the hand
- applying heat or ice to reduce swelling
- placing the hand in warm water several times
throughout a day to relax the tendons and muscles
- gently stretching the fingers to enhance range
Medications may help relieve
inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications include:
- prescription strength anti-inflammatories
- steroid injections
If medications and at-home
treatments don’t work, a doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery for trigger
finger is done on an outpatient basis. After an anesthesia shot, a surgeon
makes a small cut in the palm and then cuts the tightened tendon sheath.
As the tendon sheath heals, the
area is looser, helping the finger move more easily. Surgery risks include
infection or ineffective surgery.
Surgery recovery can take
anywhere from several weeks to six months. A doctor may recommend physical
therapy exercises to relieve post-surgery stiffness.
What Is the Outlook for Trigger Finger?
Lifestyle changes and activity avoidance are often effective
treatments for trigger finger. Corticosteroid treatment may also be effective,
but symptoms may return after this treatment. A 2008 study of corticosteroid
injection treatments found that one year after the treatment, symptoms had
returned in 56 percent of patients (Rozental, et al., 2008). These symptoms
typically came back several months after receiving the shot.
The study also found that patients who had insulin-dependent
diabetes, had several symptomatic fingers, and who were younger were more
likely to have symptom recurrence.