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Unlocking Trigger Finger

Written by Yoav Kaufman, M.D. on Jan 18, 2017 2:33:52 PM

When you stop to think about how often we use our hands every day, it’s no surprise that there are conditions that occur from the repetitive use of our fingers over time. Trigger finger, while not as widely known as carpal tunnel, is one of these conditions. 

Stuck on Bent Position

Trigger finger is a painful condition that’s marked by stiffness or tenderness in your finger. A sheath surrounds the tendons in your fingers. Inflammation of the tendon within the sheath makes tendon gliding difficult within the narrow space of the tendon sheath resulting in catching sensation or what physicians refer to as trigger finger.  Symptoms include the inability to straighten one of your fingers after it is bent – this is described as a feeling of the finger being locked in place. You might have to push it to get it to unlock, and this is generally met with pain and a popping sound. You might also notice a nodule in your palm or on your finger.

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Who’s at Risk

Like most hand conditions, trigger finger is often caused by repetitive movements and gripping performed over years. For example, people who play instruments or operate machinery sometimes experience trigger finger. 

Other conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism and diabetes, seem to contribute to trigger finger, as well. 

Or, if you’ve previously injured a tendon in your finger, that finger is also at a higher risk of developing trigger finger because the injury can lead to a buildup of scar tissue. 

Women are more likely to suffer from trigger finger.

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There are Treatment Options

If your doctor determines that you have trigger finger, they will likely suggest conservative, noninvasive treatment at first to see how well you can heal on your own. This initial treatment typically involves resting your hand for at least three to four weeks, which means avoiding overusing it in activities that involve gripping or operating heavy handheld machinery (for example, a jackhammer). You likely will be instructed to ice or heat your palm, depending on which works better for you personally. While some patients find that icing their palm helps, others see better results with soaking their hand in warm water first thing in the morning. In some instances you may be instructed to wear a split at night for several weeks to keep the finger extended, and your doctor may suggest you do stretching exercises to regain and maintain some of the mobility in your finger. 

If conservative therapy doesn’t work, steroid injections, in-office procedures or surgery may be recommended. This can be done up to two times before surgery is considered.  

Surgery entails a small 1-cm incision which is used to release the pulley or tendon sheath causing the symptoms. This outpatient procedure is typically done under local anesthesia, applied only to the surgical site. We perform this in our office’s specialized surgical suite, avoiding the cost of a full operating room. After surgery, we limit activity briefly to allow the small incision to heal, but most people return to their work within one to two weeks. 

Have a question about trigger finger? Post a question in the comment field below. 

Kaufman_Yoav.pngDr. Yoav Kaufman is a plastic surgeon at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic who specializes in hand surgery. He is accepting new patients at Main Campus and Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. His clinical interests include hand and upper extremity surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery, aesthetic plastic surgery and breast reconstruction.


Topics: trigger finger, hand surgery

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