Trigger Finger

Pamela L. Jones, MD
Board Certified Orthopedic and Hand Surgeon

What is trigger finger?
Trigger finger is a condition in which one of your fingers, or your thumb, catches or locks in a bent position. Often, the condition first appears in the form of stiffness in the finger joint, or tenderness at the base of the finger. The joint may also click when you move it. As the condition worsens, however, your finger may actually catch in a bent position and eventually snap straight, or it may not fully straighten at all.

The condition is caused by the narrowing of the sheath that protects the tendon within the affected finger or thumb. Tendons are tough, fibrous bands of tissue that connect the muscles of your forearm to the bones in your fingers and thumbs. As you move your fingers, these tendons normally glide through a protective covering. When a tendon becomes inflamed or swollen, however, it may have trouble sliding through the covering, or sheath, thus narrowing it and resulting in it snapping or popping.

What causes trigger finger?
Trigger finger is most commonly caused by highly repetitive or forceful use of the finger and thumb. Farmers, industrial workers, and musicians are among those frequently affected by the condition, given the multiple repetitive finger and thumb movements that go along with their professions. Medical conditions that cause changes in tissues can also be a factor; individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or diabetes can be at higher risk to develop the condition.

Diagnosis of trigger finger
Diagnosis for trigger finger is made through a physical examination of the hand and fingers, coupled with a discussion of work-related or medical risk factors.

Treatment of trigger finger
In terms of treatment, your doctor may simply prescribe rest for the affected hand, sometimes accompanied by splinting of the affected finger to keep it immobilized. Gentle finger exercises may also be suggested.

If your finger or thumb doesn't respond to these methods, anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to relieve the swelling of the tendon. An injection of steroidal medications, such as cortisone, may also be helpful in this regard. In rare cases, surgery may be a final step needed to release the tendon if other treatment options are unsuccessful.

To determine whether you may have the beginnings of trigger finger, be sure to report to your doctor any stiffness or catching in your finger joint so that he or she may review your symptoms and decide if treatment is necessary.