thumb pressing into palm of hand

Trigger Finger: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

No matter what you do for a living, chances are that your hands are essential to your job. From busy contractors to food service professionals to office workers, most people use their hands all day, every day. And because you rely so much on your hands, if you’ve ever experienced any medical conditions causing hand pain, you know that hand pain can range from anywhere to distracting to debilitating.

One of those common, yet poorly understood, conditions is called trigger finger. Are you looking to learn more about this condition, wondering, “do I have trigger finger,” or trying to ease pain from trigger finger? You’re in the right place to get the facts about the condition with information from some of the best hand surgeons in Philadelphia. Read on to learn about trigger finger causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What Is Trigger Finger?

While fans of skeet shooting or hunting can definitely develop trigger finger thanks to many hours holding a gun, trigger finger actually has nothing to do with firearms. Trigger finger, also called stenosing tenosynovitis, is a condition in which your fingers or thumb get stuck in a bent position, often accompanied by severe pain in the stuck digit radiating through to the entire palm.

When you attempt to bend or straighten the finger, there is sometimes a “popping” or snapping noise and a painful shifting sensation. The finger locked in a bent position cannot be unbent without concentrated effort or serious pain in some serious cases. Trigger finger primarily affects the ring finger or thumb of the dominant hand. When the condition affects the thumb, it is sometimes called trigger thumb instead. 

What Causes Trigger Finger?

Each of the tendons in your fingers is encased in a sheath to protect it from damage. When fingers become inflamed due to overuse or injury, the space where these tendon sheaths are narrows, pinching on the tendons as they slide through the sheath. This can cause finger stiffness or prevent the finger from bending entirely.

If these sheaths continue to suffer inflammation or irritation over time, tendons can become permanently damaged as scar tissue forms along sheaths. This long-term damage can worsen a case of trigger finger, causing an unpleasant cycle of pain.

Symptoms of Trigger Finger

The following symptoms mean you may have a case of trigger finger. While some of them may seem mild, see a professional if they progress or begin to affect your daily life:

  • Soreness, tenderness, or irritation on the palm or at the base of the finger
  • A bump, sore spot, or nodule in your palm or at the base of your finger
  • Stiffness in one or a few specific fingers, especially when you first wake up
  • Snapping, popping, or clicking at the base of the affected finger when you straighten or bend it

If you think you’re experiencing any of the following more serious symptoms of trigger finger, schedule a physical exam with a medical professional ASAP:

  • Inflammation at the base of the finger that feels “hot” (can signify an infection)
  • Fever or other infection symptoms arising with finger stiffness (can signify an infection)
  • Difficulty or inability to straighten one or more fingers
  • Finger(s) getting stuck more often in bent positions
  • Finger(s) “locking up” when you use them normally
  • Pain in one or more fingers causing distress

Who’s at Risk for Trigger Finger?

Anyone can be diagnosed with trigger finger. However, the following groups of people are more likely to experience this condition:

  • Women
  • Hobbyists or workers who perform repetitive motions, especially a gripping motion that moves the fingers in a way that can irritate tendons
  • People in their 40s, 50s, and beyond
  • People who have had a previous injury to their hands, wrists, or arm tendons
  • People with diabetes
  • People with carpal tunnel syndrome or another similar nerve or tendon condition

Treatment for Trigger Finger

Treatment for trigger finger, like many conditions, depends on the severity of the problem. Your medical team may suggest some of these treatment options:

  • NSAIDs or other pain relief medications
  • Hot or cold packs or compresses on the affected areas
  • A splint, stiff bandage, or another device to hold your finger in a stable position
  • Physical manipulation of the injured finger, including gentle stretching or physical therapy
  • Resting the affected area as much as possible
  • Steroid injections to relieve pain and reduce swelling
  • Surgical treatment, often called percutaneous release or release surgery, to open up the affected sheath and allow movement of the tendon

Trigger Finger FAQs

These are some of the most frequently asked questions about trigger finger. 

Is trigger finger hereditary?

Does trigger finger run in families? The answer is no, as far as researchers have witnessed so far. If a relative of yours has trigger finger, you are not more likely to develop the condition yourself. Trigger finger is a chance condition caused by tendon inflammation due to specific actions; it has not been reliably linked to genetics or hereditary traits.

Does trigger finger mean I have rheumatoid arthritis?

Some people become afraid that a case of trigger finger means they have or will develop rheumatoid arthritis. Thankfully, this is a myth. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to trigger finger, but this isn’t proven to be the case the other way around. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammation of the lining of the joints, not inflammation of tendon sheaths. 

Can you treat trigger finger without surgery?

The next question many people have after “do I have trigger finger?” is “can you treat trigger finger without surgery?” The answer varies. If you catch the problem early, you may be able to continue using a combination of rest, NSAIDs, and heat/cold treatment to reduce swelling and inflammation. However, if the condition is severe, surgical intervention may be required as scar tissue buildup in tendons can cause long-term problems for your fingers and even the rest of the hand.

Is there at-home treatment for trigger finger?

At-home trigger finger treatment should be done by consulting with a doctor first. Trying treatments that are not approved by a medical professional can lead to more tendon damage. However, you can — and should! — ask for their home care recommendations if you’re experiencing pain or inconvenience due to trigger finger. Some professionals will suggest different kinds of splints, send video instructions for at-home physical therapy, teach you how to use temperature to ease tendon pain, or offer prescription-strength NSAIDs.

Your Local Hand to Shoulder Care Professionals!

If you’re struggling with trigger finger, don’t suffer in silence. Contact Philadelphia Hand to Shoulder Center for world-class care using state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical techniques.  Think trigger finger isn’t your problem, but have other questions about joint pain? Check out our tennis elbow FAQ answering some of the most popular tennis elbow questions, such as how to sleep with tennis elbow and more. No matter what kind of pain you’re going through, we want to help you get back to your everyday life! Get in touch with us today or schedule an appointment.

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