What is Trigger Finger?

Posted by Joe O'Mahony on 27th Nov 2023

Trigger finger is a disorder of the finger where the digit cannot be straightened and remains bent like it's on a trigger. It is caused by an inflammation or swelling of the tendon (or sheath) on the palm side of the hand. The tendon cannot travel through the sheath smoothly and bunches up, creating what is known as nodules. Tendons are responsible for the movement of bones when the muscle contracts, so restriction of the tendon can make moving your digits difficult and painful. It typically occurs within minutes after activity or trauma (such as a direct blow to the finger).


Who is affected by Trigger Finger?

The disorder is more common in middle-aged people and becomes rarer after the age of 70. It has a slight female predominance, due to hormonal imbalances during pregnancy. There are no racial predispositions or cultural preferences for trigger finger.

Several factors cause trigger finger, including injury, repetitive motion (commercial workers and athletes), and being overweight. Trigger finger is also hereditary, with some families being more predisposed to the condition than others. If a family member has suffered from trigger finger, you are at higher risk of developing it as well.


Symptoms of Trigger Finger

The disorder may occur in the finger on either hand but is more common in the middle finger. The ring finger is more commonly affected in diabetics. It can also affect the thumb in some cases, but this is less common.

The symptoms depend on where exactly in the finger you have the condition. If it is at the top of your finger, you may experience pain and difficulty straightening your digit. This symptom will begin soon after activity, such as lifting heavy objects or any kind of trauma to the finger. If trigger finger develops on the palm side of your digit, it will be slightly more difficult for you to straighten out your finger. In some cases, this may cause difficulty with grasping small objects like buttons and zippers. Lastly, if trigger finger is present at the base of the finger, you may feel a painful or burning sensation when using your hand.


Treating Trigger Finger

Trigger finger is treated by your doctor, who may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroid injections. These medications will help control your symptoms and reduce inflammation. If the trigger finger does not respond to this treatment, outpatient corticosteroid injection therapy may be recommended. In rare cases where steroid injections are ineffective, surgery may be necessary.

Various home remedies and other treatments can be used to help relieve your trigger finger, such as:

  • Elevating your hand above heart level to reduce swelling.
  • Applying an ice pack several times a day, for 15-20 minutes at a time. Never apply the ice directly to your skin, instead wrap it in a towel first.
  • Stretching and exercising your fingers every day (being careful not to over-stretch them).
  • Avoiding activities that cause pain to the affected area, such as using the trigger finger digit to type on a keyboard.
  • Protecting your finger from rough surfaces and avoid gripping items tightly. Instead, use the other hand to hold onto things you need.

Wearing a splint on the affected finger will help to hold the digit in a straight position. This will reduce the movement of the tendons and decrease the stiffness of the digit in the morning if worn overnight.

As many as 10% of people may have trigger finger but will never experience symptoms. Trigger finger can be prevented by reducing your risk factors and avoiding activities known to increase the chance of developing it. Because trigger finger is hereditary, knowing your family's medical history can help you check whether you are more likely to develop similar conditions.

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