Trigger Finger Symptoms and Causes

Trigger finger is a painful “snapping” condition that can affect your fingers or thumbs when your hand is open or closed. Known medically as stenosing tenosynovitis, trigger finger is a repetitive motion disorder that results from repeated motions of regular daily activities. This condition causes fingers or thumbs (digits) to catch or lock in a bent position. Trigger finger often stems from inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles of the forearm to your finger and thumb bones and let you bend and extend your digits.

A lubricating membrane called the synovium surrounds the tendons of the fingers and thumb so that the tendon glides smoothly through the protective tendon sheath. When the tendon is inflamed or swollen, the tendon can't move easily. Cramped for room, the tendon snaps or pops as it pushes through a tight band, called a pulley, in the tendon sheath causing pain where the fingers and thumb meet the palm of the hand.

Treatments for trigger finger range from non-surgical options, most commonly a cortisone injection, to trigger finger release surgery for the most severe cases. Hand therapy, splinting, and oral medication are not usually effective. If surgery is needed, some patients will need to do therapy afterwards in order to regain good motion and function.

Trigger Finger Risk Factors

People with these risk factors are more likely to develop trigger finger:

  • Gender– Women are more likely than men.
     
  • Age – occurs most frequently in people between 40 and 60 years of age.
     
  • Occupation – Mechanics, farmers and musicians are some of the groups that are affected most often by trigger finger, because they perform highly repetitive or forceful movements that strain the hands.
     
  • Medical problems such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
     

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Hand and Wrist Services in New York treat trigger finger as well as a broad range of conditions affecting the hand and wrist areas.

Symptoms of Trigger Finger

You may experience these common trigger finger symptoms:

  • Pain during movement of the fingers or thumb
  • Sore, inflexible or frozen thumbs and/or fingers
  • Catching or locking of your fingers or thumbs during movement
  • A feeling of clicking or popping with associated pain when you try to straighten or flex your fingers or thumbs
  • Tenderness or pain in the palm of your hand
  • Sore lump in the palm of your hand
  • Swelling in your fingers, thumbs or other areas of the hand
     

These trigger finger symptoms may occur after heavy use of your hands, but don’t usually result from an injury. In more severe cases of trigger finger, the finger cannot be straightened at all.

Causes of Trigger Finger

Trigger finger is caused by swelling due to inflammation or scarring of the tendons that cause movement of your thumbs and fingers. It is usually an isolated condition, but it can sometimes result from an underlying illness such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. According to the American College of Rheumatology, a majority of patients with rheumatoid arthritis have inflammation around the tendons in the palm of the hand that eventually could develop into trigger finger.

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