Trigger Finger

Elsa Oliva OTR/L, CLT

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Ever find yourself with a “catching”or “locking” sense when you bend your finger(s) or thumb? Does it sometimes require you to forcefully open your hand? Trigger finger, a painful condition caused by an inflamed tendon (tough bands of tissue that connect muscles and bones), has the best outcome with conservative treatment when noted early.

Trigger finger, or “stenosing tenosynovitis” in medical terminology, is most often caused by repeated movement or forceful use of the digit. Trigger finger is typically worse in the morning, as well as when you grasp something firmly and when you try to straighten your finger. Some examples of hand movements that can put you at risk include repetitive and prolonged gripping of a steering wheel, or repeated mouse-clicking and stapling as a secretary might perform.  

How does it occur?

The synovium is a lubricating membrane that surrounds joints, allowing the tendon to glide easily through the sheath (aka tissue) that covers it. When the tendon sheath undergoes prolonged irritation, scarring and thickening can occur; this leads to a snapping or popping sensation when you move your finger since you are pulling the inflamed tendon through the narrowed sheath. Sometimes, you may detect a palpable bump over the joint in the palm of your hand, or your finger could be locked into a bent position. You may also notice swelling, stiffness, and pain of that region. 

Some specific risk factors for trigger finger include:

  1. Age between 40-60 years old

  2. Usually more common in women

  3. Health conditions such as diabetes, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis

  4. Job activities with common occurrence amongst farmers, industrial workers, musicians and anyone else who repeats finger and thumb movements. 

How can it be treated?

Upon early detection, treatment may include splinting, activity modification, use of NSAIDS, and prescribed exercises/stretches with various treatment modalities as recommended by your provider. Steroid injections are another line of defense for fingers (not the thumb) before surgery is considered; however, one should speak with their MD as to whether or not they would be an appropriate candidate for injection. Surgery is typically the last resort for persistent trigger finger, in which the surgeon will release the sheath for the tendon to glide smoothly again.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these common symptoms of trigger finger, be sure to contact your doctor and stop by one of our Reboot Integrative Wellness Center locations for an occupational or physical therapist to provide you with an individualized plan of care.