What is it? And why is it called trigger finger?
When you experience trigger finger, your finger or thumb “locks” in a bent position. When it unlocks, your finger snaps back suddenly like a trigger releasing on a gun. Healthy finger movement depends on a complex system of tendons and pulleys. Your tendons connect the muscles of your forearm to your fingers, while the pulleys act to keep the tendons properly aligned. Much like fishing line slides through the guides on a fishing rod, your tendons slide through and are kept in line by the pulleys. This is how your muscles and tendons allow you to flex and extend your fingers and thumb, to make a fist, or grab onto something.
If your tendons are irritated by repetitive use or disease, they can become inflamed. Inflamed tendons swell, thicken, and tighten. A swollen tendon has a difficult time sliding back and forth through the narrow pulley and can get stuck and lock as it passes through.
Why does trigger finger happen?
Although we don’t know exactly what causes finger trigger, we do know that people who use multiple repetitive movements in their daily line of work – farmers, industrial workers, and musicians – more often experience trigger finger.
Some possible causes of trigger finger:
- Highly repetitive and/or forceful use of the finger and thumb
- Prolonged, strenuous grasping, such as with power tools
- Rheumatoid arthritis
What are common symptoms?
With trigger finger you may experience:
- Soreness at the base of your finger or thumb
- Discomfort and tenderness
- Clicking, popping, or snapping when flexing
- Catching or locking when flexed or extended
- Nodule at base of finger
What are my treatment options?
Your custom treatment plan may include:
- Limiting repetitive activities
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Splint to restrict movement
- Physical therapy
- Cortisone injections to reduce swelling
What can I expect the results to be after treatment?
Your results will depend on your response to medication and how well you avoid repetitive activities that aggravate the symptoms. The goal of treatment is to eliminate the locking and to return you to full movement without discomfort. Steroid injections will often relieve your symptoms altogether.
How long until I’m better?
Non-surgical forms of treatment will often totally relieve your symptoms. If surgery is needed, active movement of your finger will generally be encouraged immediately after surgery. Hand therapy may be prescribed after surgery to enable you to regain full finger movement. Your Summit hand surgeon will develop a customized treatment plan so you will know what to expect with your specific situation.
Dr. Scofield explains the factors he considers when making decisions about which tendon treatment to use.
Ask the Expert: Hand Video Series
We’ve got suggestions to help you avoid the common Thanksgiving injuries we treat over the holiday weekend.