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Trigger finger occurs due to inflammation of the tendons in the hand, causing hand tenderness, pain, and deformity. The condition limits your finger’s movement and can make it impossible to straighten your finger.
Common early symptoms include:
If you don’t get treatment for it, trigger finger can progress. Advanced symptoms include a thumb, another finger, or both being locked in a bent or straight position. You may also be unable to uncurl your finger without using the other hand if you have an advanced case of trigger finger.
The symptoms of trigger finger tend to be worse in the morning. The finger typically starts to relax and move more easily as the day goes on.
Your fingers have several small bones. Tendons connect these bones to muscles. When your muscles contract or tighten, your tendons pull on your bones to move your fingers.
Long tendons, called flexor tendons, extend from your forearm to the muscles and bones in your hands. Flexor tendons slide through a flexor tendon sheath, which is like a tunnel for the tendon. If the tunnel narrows, 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 becomes extremely difficult to straighten it.
Some people are more likely to have trigger finger than others. For example, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it’s more common in women than in men.
Other risks factors associated with trigger finger include:
According to the Cleveland Clinic, trigger finger most commonly affects musicians, farmers, and industrial workers.
A doctor can usually diagnose trigger finger with a physical exam and some simple questions about medical history.
Your doctor will listen for characteristic clicking upon movement. They’ll look for a bent finger. They may also observe you opening and closing your hand. Diagnosis will not typically require an X-ray or further imaging testing.
Treatments depend on the severity of the symptoms. At-home treatments include:
Medications may help relieve inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medications include:
If medications and at-home treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgeons perform surgery for trigger finger on an outpatient basis. After you get an anesthesia shot, your 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 your finger move more easily. Surgery risks include infection or ineffective surgical results.
Surgery recovery can take several weeks to six months. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises to relieve post-surgery stiffness, but it isn’t necessary usually. As a general rule, once the doctor releases the tendon sheath, the tendon can move freely and people can return to their normal activities within a few days. Your doctor will remove the sutures in 7-14 days.
Lifestyle changes and activity avoidance are often effective treatments for trigger finger. Corticosteroid treatment may also be effective, but the symptoms may return after this treatment. According to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, researchers found that symptoms had returned in 56 percent of patients by one year after receiving corticosteroid injection treatments. These symptoms typically came back several months after receiving the shot. However, the injection is quick and simple, and it can allow you to put off having surgery until a time that’s more convenient.
The researchers in this study also found that patients with insulin-dependent diabetes, who were also younger and had several symptomatic fingers, were more likely to have symptoms that return.
Written by: Rachel Nall
Medically reviewed on: Jun 02, 2016: William A Morrison, MD
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