Have you ever bent your finger and then been unable to straighten it? Have you needed to use your other hand to straighten a bent finger? Yes? You may have trigger finger.
Trigger finger is usually caused by the ongoing or forceful use of a finger. Farmers, musicians and industrial workers are often affected by this condition because their occupations require multiple, repetitive finger movements. Any job that involves the prolonged use of power tools with triggers, or repetitive grasping of tools can cause it.
Trigger finger is most common in women between the ages of 40 and 60. In addition, health conditions like gout, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and hand injuries are also contributing factors.
One of the first symptoms of trigger finger is soreness at the base of your finger or thumb, later followed by a painful clicking, popping or snapping when you attempt to flex or extend the affected finger. These symptoms tend to worsen after your hand has been still, but improve as the joints in your hand loosen up with movement. In the most severe cases, the affected finger just locks in a flexed or extended position. Without treatment, this joint may become permanently contracted or stiff.
What’s happening inside your hand to cause trigger finger? Think of the movement of your finger as being controlled by a type of rope and pulley system. In a hand, the rope is the tendon. The pulleys are the tendon sheaths which are attached like rings to the underside of the finger bones.
The tendon sheath/pulley rings form a tunnel on the underside of the fingers, which the tendon threads through. The tendon/ropes connect the muscles of the forearm to the bones of the fingers and thumb.
Under ideal conditions, the muscles contract; the tendons contract and freely slide within the tendon sheath, causing the fingers to flex and straighten, unhindered.
However with trigger finger, the tendon sheath/pulley ring at the base of a finger thickens and constricts the movement of the tendon. As a result, the tendon becomes irritated and may even develop a nodule, or swelling in its lining.
This swelling or nodule can significantly restrict the movement of the tendon, not allowing it to stretch and constrict freely within the tendon sheath rings. This can lead to pain, a popping or catching sensation in the joint and restricted flexion of the joint. Each time the tendon catches, it triggers more irritation and swelling, leading to possible scarring and/or permanent thickening of the tendon sheaths/pulleys.
To prevent further damage and promote healing, the initial treatment of trigger finger is focused on stopping the finger from locking while allowing full movement without pain.
To reduce the swelling of the tendon and the tendon sheath by restricting joint movement, the affected finger is often placed in a finger splint for up to six weeks. As well, an anti-inflammatory may be recommended and sometimes a steroid is injected right into the affected area for immediate relief.
If these non-surgical treatments do not relieve the symptoms, outpatient surgery may be performed using a local anesthetic. In this surgery, through a small incision in the palm of the hand, the tendon sheath/pulley ring is opened slightly to allow the tendon to glide through more freely. Generally, the finger will move freely immediately following this procedure. However, occasionally hand therapy is required to regain full use of the hand. Follow these handy tips for avoiding trigger finger and other problems with the joints in your hands: Keep your hands moving. Move your hands around the wheel. Flex your fingers. Make a fist. Squeeze a stress ball. Move joints through their full range of motion to reduce stiffness and keep them flexible. Range of motion is the normal extent joints can be moved in certain directions. Avoid overuse and injury. Damaging the cartilage on the end of your joints can narrow the joint space between them and allow the bones to painfully rub together.
Avoid rapid and repetitive motions of hand joints. Vary your tasks to give your hands a break.
Warm up with some finger stretches and flexes before grasping something heavy. Take a break with some gentle finger stretches and flexes if holding something for an extended period of time.
Lift and carry with your arms instead of your hands. Let the bigger muscles and joints support the weight. Avoid overstressing your joints. If you still have hand pain 48 hours after using them strenuously, you may have overstressed your joints. Give your hands time to recover and take it easy the next time.
Keep your hands warm and protected in the cold. Eat omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources are fatty coldwater fish like salmon and mackerel, which are also good for reducing inflammation. Avoiding trigger finger – it’s in your hands.