Trigger finger, or trigger thumb, occurs when a finger gets stuck in a bent position and then snaps straight – as if squeezing a trigger. While this can occur in one or more fingers, the ring finger is most often affected. The condition is also known as stenosing tenosynovitis. So what causes it?
Trigger finger is the result of a tendon defect in which includes irritation or inflammation that prevents tendons from their natural gliding movement. It is also possible that a nodule (bump) has formed on the tendon as well, also blocking the tendon. It’s important to understand the symptoms to be aware of when identifying trigger finger.
Signs and symptoms of trigger finger include:
- Popping or snapping feeling when moving the finger(s) or thumb
- Tenderness at the base of the finger or thumb in the palm
- Discomfort and stiffness when bending the finger(s) or thumb
- Swollen, tender lump in the palm of the hand
- In severe cases, locking of the finger(s) or thumb in the bent position
- Inability to flex the finger
Treatment for Trigger Finger
The first step in treating trigger finger is to rest the finger or thumb. For at least three to four weeks, it’s recommended to avoid activities that require repetitive gripping. While resting the finger, treatments that may be helpful include:
- Icing the palm several times each day
- Wearing a splint to hold the tendon in place
- Performing stretch exercises to maintain mobility
If symptoms are severe or if conservative treatments haven’t helped, a physician may suggest several other conservative treatment methods. If those fail, a trigger release surgery may be discussed at that time to help you regain full function of your hand. Common surgical treatments include:
- Corticosteroid injection. This is the most common treatment for trigger finger. In fact, in people who do not have diabetes, it is effective in up to 90 percent of patients. The steroid is injected into the tendon sheath to reduce swelling, allowing the tendon to move freely again.
- Percutaneous release surgery. During this procedure, a needle is used to break apart the constriction that is blocking the tendon.
- Open release surgery. This minimally invasive procedure uses a small incision near the base of the affected finger to cut open the constricted section of tendon sheath.
Recovery from Trigger Finger Treatment
The length of time it takes to recover from trigger finger is dependent on its severity and the treatment method chosen. Most patients with trigger finger are able to recover within a few weeks with rest and anti-inflammatory drugs.
With open surgery, the palm may feel sore immediately after the procedure, but any discomfort should pass within two weeks. Recovery with percutaneous surgery may be shorter. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy may also prove beneficial, if hand stiffness was severe before surgery.
If you feel you may be suffering from trigger finger, schedule an appointment with a hand and wrist specialist as soon as possible to minimize discomfort and long term damage.