What is Trigger Finger?
Trigger finger is the inflammation and thickening of tendon sheaths the tunnel-like structures that hold the tendons to the bone in the fingers and thumb. If left untreated, the tendon may also become inflamed and develop a nodule. When this happens, the tendon can no longer slide through the sheath smoothly when bending the affected finger creating a catching or popping sensation, especially when the nodule passes through the sheath.
Where can you get Trigger Finger?
You can get trigger finger in one or more digits, meaning any finger as well as your thumbs.
What Causes Trigger Finger?
There is no consensus as to the exact cause of trigger finger, however, there are some activities that can increase your likelihood of developing it such as repetitive movements and:
- Hobbies: That require gripping or holding a small tool for long periods of time, or repetitive hand use like playing an instrument, writing by hand, gaming or rocking climbing
- Occupation: Jobs that require extensive or forceful hand use like long-distance truck driving, farming, and industrial workers
- Chronic conditions: Having diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or gout can increase your chances of developing trigger finger
- Gender: Trigger finger is more common in women
- Age: Trigger finger is more common in people aged 40 to 60 years
- Surgery: Trigger finger is a known complication from from carpal tunnel syndrome surgery
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Trigger Finger?
In a normally functioning hand, tendons smoothly glide through the sheaths to the fingers to straighten and bend them. When the tendons or the sheaths become inflamed from trigger finger, the tendon can no longer slide through the sheath smoothly when bending the affected finger.
The most common symptoms of trigger finger (also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, or trigger thumb) are stiff painful digits that feeling like they’re locking or catching when bent. Trigger finger is a progressive condition that can get worse if its not treated. Typical symptoms include:
- Painless clicking, popping or a catching sensation when bending the fingers or thumbs
- Stiffness and swelling (especially in the morning)
- Inability to fully bend or extend the affected digit
- Finger or thumb gets locked in a flexed position
- A painful, tender bump on the palm (known as a nodule) at the base of the affected thumb
- Pain that radiates to the palm
- A popping, snapping or clicking sensation when you move your thumb
- Your fingers or thumbs catch or lock in a bent position, then suddenly goes straight
- Your thumb locks in a bent position, and you can’t straighten it
- Pain when you bend or straighten your thumb that improves with movement and worsens with rest
How is Trigger Finger Treated?
Trigger finger and trigger thumb can be treated in several ways depending on the severity. Both conservative non-invasive treatments and surgery are common, including:
Rest Your Hand
Avoid activities that require holding small tools, or forceful use of the fingers/thumbs, or vibrating machinery.
Get a Splint
A hand therapist can asses and fit you with a splint to keep the affected digit straight while you sleep.
Lower swelling and improve the movement of your digits with gentle stretching exercises and other modalities.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), acetaminophen or naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce pain and swelling.
Cortisone can be injected into the tendon sheath to help help the tendon glide smoothly and reduce inflammation. Multiple injections may be needed.
Known as “tenolysis” or “trigger finger release,” will release the sheath that’s stopping the tendon from gliding.
Physiotherapy for Trigger Finger
A non-invasive, drug-free, and natural treatment method for trigger finger and trigger thumb, physiotherapy can be up to 80% effective. A physiotherapist will assess your affected finger or thumb to create a custom treatment plan that can include:
- Therapeutic ultrasound to reduce pain and help break down scar tissue
- Soft tissue work to break down scar tissue
- Massage therapy to increase blood flow
- Stretches and exercises to improve range of motion
- Tendon gliding exercises to reduce pain and improve movement
- Patient education and activity modification to ease symptoms
- Rest and avoidance of repetitive gripping until symptoms improve
Will Trigger Finger go Away on its own?
Yes and no. Mild cases of trigger finger and trigger thumb can improve if you stop or avoid activities that aggravate the digit. If you’re experiencing symptoms of trigger finger, try avoiding activities that require you to hold or grip objects for long periods of time until your symptoms improve.
However, trigger finger and trigger thumb are progressive conditions, so seeking care sooner can prevent progression of the condition to later stages which could require surgery to fix.