A “trigger finger” also known as ‘stenosing tenosynovitis,’ is a common and painful hand affliction that can interfere with everyday activities. It can affect any finger, but is most frequent in the thumb or ring finger. Some patients experience multiple “trigger fingers” at a time. The general population has a 2.6% chance of developing the condition, with women being 3 to 6 times more likely to be affected.
Unlike other conditions that affect the hand and wrist, there is the possibility that trigger finger can heal on its own.
What is Trigger Finger?
Trigger finger refers to a condition where a finger gets locked in a bent position. The condition develops from overuse, injury, or other ailment that can cause inflammation. When inflamed, the tendon cannot properly move through its sheath, essentially getting stuck. If the inflammation is not addressed, the condition will become more painful and it will become harder to move the affected finger. Scar tissue may also build up and form bumps, causing even more discomfort.
Other symptoms may include:
- Pain at the base of the affected finger
- Stiffness, especially in the morning.
- Worsening pain at night/ in the morning
- Popping/ clicking when moving the finger
- Lump at the base of the finger
- Finger may remain locked in a bent condition.
How Do You Develop Trigger Finger?
Aside from overuse or injury, there are several health conditions which may predispose to developing trigger finger. These risk factors include:
- Approximately 25% of patients with diabetes develop trigger finger, and the overall risk is 5 to 10 times greater than that of the general population. Patients with diabetes also are more likely to experience trigger finger in multiple fingers.
- Arthritis is an inflammatory condition, so over time the inflammation may spread to affect your fingers.
- Gout is caused by acid buildup throughout the body. Gout commonly occurs in the finger joints if it is left untreated for too long.
- Osteoarthritis differs from rheumatoid arthritis because it causes cartilage deterioration rather than inflammation. Over time, the deterioration can compromise the movement of the tendons.
Other hand conditions
- Previous hand condition diagnosis (such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Dupuytren’s contracture, and De Quervain’s tenosynovitis) are associated with a higher risk of developing trigger finger.
How Can You Treat Trigger Finger?
Generally speaking, mild cases of trigger finger are likely to correct on their own with proper rest and at-home treatment. Conservative treatments may include:
OTC pain medications
- Most patients experience worse pain in the morning.
- Ice should only be used in increments, as too much cold may worsen one’s condition.
Wearing a splint
Hand exercises and stretches
- 10 to 15 minutes of daily hand exercise can greatly increase strength and reduce stiffness.
- Gently massaging in a circular motion may help release the affected finger on its own. Massage the base of the finger with gentle but firm pressure.
All of these treatments are easy ways to help mild cases of trigger finger. If your condition does not improve, or continues to worsen, you should contact a hand surgeon.
What to Do if Trigger Finger Doesn’t Heal
If trigger finger is left untreated, it may become permanently stuck in a bent position. If after a few weeks you do not see improvement, your doctor may recommend you receive corticosteroid injections. These steroid injections are considered safe and effective but should not be repeated long term to avoid further deterioration. Your doctor may also recommend a splint for night-time wear or extended wear throughout the day.
Surgery for trigger finger is typically a last resort. If you have diabetes, worsening symptoms, lack of relief with corticosteroid injections, or loss of movement, your doctor may recommend surgery.
There are two surgical methods which treat trigger finger. The standard open-release method is more invasive, but does have a good success rate. Endoscopic release surgery is less-invasive, but still leads to excellent results and a much shorter recovery.
If you notice any of the above symptoms and do not find relief with at-home remedies, you should consult a physician. You should also consult a doctor if your condition continues to deteriorate or you find increased difficulty moving the affected finger.
Be prepared to tell your doctor:
- How long symptoms have been occuring
- If anything seems to better or worsen your symptoms
- What repetitive jobs/ hobbies you perform, if any
- If there is a time of day your symptoms are worse
- Any injury that may have occurred.
Every case of trigger finger is different as not all of them are debilitating. However, the ones that are, can greatly decrease one’s quality of life. Even if your condition comes and goes over the course of a few years, it’s never too late to seek consultation with an experienced physician so they can provide you with the best possible relief.