Trigger Finger

Trigger finger, despite its harmless-sounding name, is a painful condition in which a finger or thumb catches, or gets stuck, in a bent position, as if squeezing a trigger.

trigger finger

Digits affected by this condition, also referred to as stenosing tenosynovitis, may snap straight out when they become unstuck, as if a trigger were released. This condition is more common in women than in men, and is seen most often in people over the age of 45.

Causes of Trigger Finger

The tendons in each finger and thumb connect muscles to bone, allowing the digits to move and bend. These tendons are housed in sheaths or tunnels, and when one of these sheaths becomes inflamed, the tendon cannot glide smoothly. Instead, it catches and snaps closed.

In most cases, the cause of trigger finger is unknown, but it sometimes occurs as a result of occupational conditions or activities that require repetitive finger and thumb movements, such as those necessary for manual or industrial work, using power tools or playing a musical instrument.

This type of inflammation may be associated with certain chronic conditions as well, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and gout.

Trigger Finger Diagnosis

To diagnose this condition, your doctor will take a medical history to learn more about the scope and duration of pain, stiffness and other symptoms. The doctor also will perform a physical examination of the affected digit and hand.

During the exam, the doctor will check for visible swelling in the finger and for a tender bump over the joint at the palm, as this symptom is present in many cases of trigger finger. You also will be asked to open and close your hand, so the doctor can see how the affected digit catches while in motion.

X-rays and imaging tests typically will not be ordered for this diagnosis, unless an alternative diagnosis or another underlying condition is suspected.

Treatment for Trigger Finger

The recommended course of treatment will vary, depending upon the severity and extent of the symptoms.

In mild to moderate cases, conservative treatment options can often provide relief. Resting the finger and avoiding activities that require gripping and repetitive hand movements are usually advised.

The affected digit also may be taped to an adjacent finger, to restrict movement.
Some patients also find that applying ice or heat to the painful area and doing gentle stretching exercises can be beneficial.

In severe cases in which the finger is locked into place and will not straighten, or if symptoms do not improve with conservative treatments, outpatient surgery may be necessary to provide relief.

If you have experienced pain and joint locking associated with trigger finger, contact Steward Health Care: Centers of Orthopedic & Sports Medicine today for a full medical evaluation.

This article reviewed by Ben Williams, MD.