Tendons connect bones to muscles in the body. Flexor tendons of the thumb and fingers pull the fingers into a fist. The tendons are enclosed in a synovial sheath. When this sheath becomes inflamed it can cause trigger finger.
Usually, tendons slide easily through the sheath as the finger moves. In the case of trigger finger, the synovial sheath is swollen. The tendon cannot move easily. This causes the finger to remain in a flexed (bent) position. In mild cases, the finger may be straightened with a pop. In severe cases, the finger becomes stuck in the bent position. Usually, this condition can easily be treated.
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Many cases of trigger finger are caused by:
- Swelling of the synovial sheath—tenosynovitis
Trigger finger is more common in women, and in people aged 40-60 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of trigger finger include:
Trigger finger may cause:
- Finger or thumb stiffness
- Finger, thumb, or hand pain
- Swelling or a lump in the palm
- Catching or popping when straightening the finger or thumb
- Finger or thumb stuck in bent position
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The physical exam may include:
- Asking you to move the affected finger or thumb
- Feeling the hand and fingers
Your doctor can diagnose trigger finger based on the exam. For severe cases, your doctor may refer you to a hand specialist.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. The goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and pain. This will allow the tendon to move freely in the sheath. Treatment options include the following:
Stopping movement in the finger or thumb is often the best treatment for mild cases of trigger finger. A brace or splint may be used. Rest may be combined with stretching the tendon.
- Corticosteroid injections
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Severe cases of trigger finger may not respond to medications. In this case, surgery may be used to release the tendon from a locked position. This surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis. It only requires a small incision in the palm of the hand.
Avoid overuse of your thumb and fingers. If you have a job or hobby that involves repetitive motions of the hand, you can take the following steps:
- Adjust your workspace to minimize the strain on your joints.
- Alternate activities when possible.
- Take breaks throughout the day.
- Teresa Briedwell, DPT, OCS
- Reviewed: 08/2014
- Updated: 09/30/2013
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