You don’t need to shoot a gun to get trigger finger. It’s a common hand condition that affects all kinds of people, and it’s easily treated.

Symptoms are usually worse in the morning and include finger stiffness and a popping or clicking sensation as you bend your finger. You may also have tenderness or a bump in your palm where the palm meets the affected finger.

The anatomy of trigger finger

Flexor tendons in the hand allow you to bend or flex your fingers. They’re assisted by a series of pulleys that hold the tendons close to the bone to make the flexing motion seem effortless.

Most people believe that trigger finger is a form of tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons. Actually, it’s caused by the thickening of a flexor tendon in the palm. This thickening leaves less room for the tendon to move smoothly—resulting in the stiffness and clicking sensation.

What are the risk factors and symptoms of trigger finger?

There are no risk factors for trigger finger, nor are there any specific ergonomic reasons for this condition. However, people who grip their hands a lot—like weight lifters or laborers—are diagnosed at a higher rate.

Age also may be a factor, since trigger finger is typically seen in people who are in their mid-40s and older. Additionally, some medical conditions are associated with trigger finger including:

  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease (renal failure)
  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

The first symptom is often pain in the palm of your hand, typically at the base of the finger or thumb where the finger joins the palm. You may even feel a lump in that location. Other symptoms include:

  • Popping or snapping sensation
  • Feeling as if the affected finger is "catching"
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness in the affected finger
  • Limited finger movement

How is trigger finger diagnosed?

Trigger finger can be diagnosed in a hand surgeon’s office—no complex tests are required. Your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a physical exam, asking you to open and close your hand. The doctor will check for areas of pain, smoothness of motion and evidence of locking.

Getty Images
Getty Images

How is trigger finger treated?

Trigger finger doesn’t go away on its own, but the right treatment eliminates swelling so you can regain full and painless movement of your finger or thumb. If you see a doctor soon after symptoms begin, it’s likely that trigger finger can be treated non-surgically.

While a splint or anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) can be used, they aren’t usually effective. Instead, a small injection of cortisone can provide relief within a day or so, though for some, it may take up to two to three weeks. For approximately 50 percent of patients, a single shot is the only treatment needed. Others may require a second shot to completely reduce the swelling.

If cortisone injections don’t heal the condition, a simple outpatient surgery is required. This procedure, called tenolysis or trigger finger release, involves the following:

  • The patient receives a local anesthesia, sometimes with mild sedation.
  • The surgeon makes a small incision in the palm to release the tendon that’s blocking movement. This allows the flexor tendon to move easily. Afterward, the incision is closed.
  • Those not sedated during surgery can drive themselves home.
  • Recovery involves minimal downtime—just long enough for the stitches to heal.
  • Some patients need hand therapy to regain better use of their hand.

If you think you have trigger finger, call 1-888-847-8823 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua hand surgeon.

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