The Signs Behind Trigger Finger

Symptoms and diagnosis for trigger finger
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By Orthopaedic and Neurology Clinic Singapore

Trigger finger info

What is trigger finger?

Trigger finger is a condition in which one of our fingers gets stuck in a bent position. Our finger may bend or straighten with a snap — like a trigger being pulled and released. If it is severe, our finger may become locked in a bent position. 

People whose work or hobbies require repetitive gripping actions are at higher risk of developing trigger finger. The condition is also more common in women and in anyone with diabetes. Treatment varies depending on the severity.

What are some symptoms of a trigger finger?

Some symptoms of trigger finger you might notice:

  • A painful clicking or snapping when you bend or straighten your finger. It’s worse when your finger’s been still, and it gets better as you move it.
  • Stiffness in your finger, especially in the morning
  • Soreness or a bump at the base of the finger or thumb. Your doctor will call this a nodule.
  • A popping or clicking as you move your finger
  • A locked finger that you can’t straighten

Symptoms often start out mild and become more severe over time. It’s more likely to affect you after a period of heavy hand use than an injury. It’s often worse:

  • In the morning
  • When you grasp something firmly
  • When you try to straighten your finger

What are some reasons behind trigger finger?

  • Repetitive hand or finger movements: Repeated and forceful movements of the fingers or thumb, especially gripping or grasping activities, can irritate the tendons and the sheath, leading to trigger finger. This is commonly seen in occupations or hobbies that involve repetitive hand movements, such as musicians, industrial workers, or gamers.

  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of developing trigger finger. These include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, gout, and amyloidosis.

  • Aging: Trigger finger is more common in individuals over the age of 40. As we age, the tendons can become less flexible and more prone to inflammation and irritation.

  • Gender: Trigger finger is more common in women than in men, although the reason for this is not entirely clear.

  • Trauma or injury: A direct injury to the palm or base of the finger, such as a blow or impact, can cause inflammation and swelling, leading to trigger finger.

  • Anatomical factors: Certain anatomical factors, such as a thickened tendon or a naturally small tendon sheath, can increase the likelihood of developing trigger finger.

It’s worth noting that the exact cause of trigger finger is not always clear, and it can occur without any obvious risk factors. If you are experiencing symptoms of trigger finger, such as finger stiffness, pain, or a popping or clicking sensation, it’s recommended to consult with our specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

Trigger finger is commonly linked to age, and existing medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. It is believed that the constant or repetitive overuse of the fingers causes accumulated wear-and-tear at the interface between the flexor tendon and the A1 pulley. Over time, this could cause swelling and inflammation of the flexor tendon, and the development of trigger finger.”

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What types of diagnosis?

Our Orthopaedic specialist makes the diagnosis based on your medical history and a physical exam. During the physical exam, our doctor will ask you to open and close your hand, checking for areas of pain, smoothness of motion and evidence of locking.

Our doctor will also feel your palm to see if there is a lump present. If the lump is associated with trigger finger, the lump will move as the finger moves because the lump is an area of swelling in part of the tendon that moves the finger.

Trigger finger is generally less common in children than in adults, but sometimes young children aged between 6 months and 3 years develop it.

We highly recommend to seek professional help instead of self diagnosis to enable faster recovery. 

Possible treatment methods?

The treatment of trigger finger depends entirely on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, or the severity of your condition, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment.

The goal is to eliminate the swelling and catching/locking, allowing full, painless movement of the finger or thumb.

Common treatment for trigger finger include, but are not limited to:

  • Night splints
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Changing your activity

Hand and finger exercises can stretch and strengthen the muscles around the tendons, which may help reduce stiffness and pain. However, it is important to avoid overexercising and to discontinue any exercise that increases pain. Our Physio can guide you through to avoid further injury.

If non-surgical treatments do not relieve the symptoms, surgery may be recommended. The surgery for trigger finger goal is to open the pulley at the base of the finger so that the tendon can glide more freely. The clicking or popping goes away first.

Surgery recovery can take a few weeks to six months. Our doctor may recommend hand exercises to relieve post-surgery stiffness. You should be able to return to your normal activities within a few days. Occasionally, hand therapy is required after surgery to regain better use.

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