Trigger finger, sometimes called trigger thumb, is a condition that locks a person’s finger into a bent position. Sometimes the finger will then snap straight out, similar to the way a trigger is pulled and released. It happens when inflammation causes the space around the sheath that protects the tendon to narrow. In severe cases, the finger cannot be straightened out.
The irritation and inflammation associated with trigger finger disrupts the normal gliding motion of the tendon as it moves through the sheath. This interference contributes to the trademark bent position of an affected finger. If the tendon sheath remains irritated for an extended period of time, it can lead to thickening, scarring, and bumps that further impede the tendon’s ability to move.
Certain health issues like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes as well as repeated firm gripping motions increase the chances of developing trigger finger.
Symptoms of trigger finger can range anywhere from mild to severe and progressively become worse over time. The thumb, ring, and middle fingers are usually the ones affected, and multiple fingers may be bent at the same time.
Those of us who work with our hands in any capacity, whether it’s playing music, gripping tools, or performing any sort of repetitive motions, are vulnerable to trigger finger. Any activity in which we frequently draw our fingers in toward the palm, or to meet with the thumb, utilizes — and potentially overworks — our tendons.
Each tendon consists of a cord that slides through an outer sheath — and with lots of repeated motions, these systems can become inflamed. Inflammation then causes the cord to become stuck within the outer casing, thereby preventing smooth movement. In the case of trigger finger, this results in one of your fingers becoming locked in a bent position and then snapping free like a trigger when straightened.
Treatment for trigger finger depends on its severity. Usually the first thing to do is to rest the joint. Some doctors recommend wearing a splint for a few weeks to prevent the tendon from moving.
Afterwards, gentle stretching exercises will help maintain mobility. Applying ice and heat benefits some patients, as do NSAID pain relievers. If the condition does not improve, surgery may be required.
As with almost any instance of tendon inflammation, the key to prevention is rest. Inflamed tendons are likely to stay inflamed if they are put through continued use, and doing so can quickly result in damage that is harder to repair.
If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, immediately stop the activity and allow the finger to rest. Failure to do so causes the inflammation to worsen.
Switch to other activities, but be mindful about using the affected finger. Doctors recommend using ice and/or heat to soothe the tendon.
You may also take a drug like Ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, though it should be noted that this will not cure trigger finger once it has progressed past a certain state. Advanced trigger finger may require surgery, therapy, and medication to cure.