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What is Trigger Finger and What Are the Symptoms?

written by: BStone • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/31/2010

Trigger finger is what happens when tendons within the fingers and/or the thumb catch and lock. It is a painful condition that is quite frustrating for those who work with their hands. Learn about causes, the symptoms of trigger finger, and treatment options.

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    trigger finger What is trigger finger? This condition is literally a finger or thumb catching and locking like the trigger of a gun. What happens is a tendon become inflamed. When the affected finger or thumb is bent or extended, the tendon can 'pop' outside of or back inside of its protective sheath instead of easily moving within, because it is so swollen. This creates the characteristic snap of the condition. In severe cases the finger or thumb can become stuck in the bent or extended position. The joint eventually contracts and becomes increasingly stiff.

    Could you have this condition? Learn about the causes, find out how to recognize the symptoms of trigger finger, and then see a doctor if necessary to treat this problem before it worsens.

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    Trigger Finger Causes

    Often trigger finger is linked to either repetitive or forceful motion. Like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, people who frequently use their hands for their way of life are the ones who are often affected. It is the motion of the work that can cause trigger finger, and it is the work that is limited by the condition. Musicians, construction workers, typists; anyone who uses their fingers and thumbs on a regular and somewhat intense basis can have problems.

    What causes trigger finger is inflammation of the tendon, which can be caused by the repetitive or intense motion. The tendon becomes increasingly irritated and swollen. It thickens and nodules can form, making it more and more difficult to pass through its protective sheath with ease with each flex and extend movement. Eventually, the tendon gets stuck for a moment when you try to move your finger or thumb, and then pops through the sheath. When it does pop through, the appendage can shoot straight out suddenly.

    Cases of trigger finger occur more frequently in women than men. Furthermore, people within the 40 to 60 age group are most affected. While some sort of work, strain, or even an injury to the tendons is often behind this condition, it is also possible for other medical conditions to cause trigger finger. People with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and gout can have problems due to changes in tissue.

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    Recognizing Symptoms

    What are the symptoms of trigger finger? The following are signs to be aware of:

    • Soreness at the base of the finger or thumb
    • A clicking or snapping sound when extending or bending the appendage
    • Pain when extending or bending
    • Worsening of symptoms when fingers have been inactive, such as in the morning after sleeping
    • A complete finger or thumb lock — appendage has to be straightened slowly with the other hand
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    How to Deal

    To deal with a trigger finger it is so important to stop doing the activities that may have caused the condition, at least for the time period recommended by a doctor. The tendon needs the chance to heal and recover. In some cases, this may be impossible — you may simply have to limit the motion as much as is feasible. Another solution that a doctor may suggest is a splint to restrict movement.

    Medications are a treatment option for trigger finger. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen are used. Steroid medication is another option. In severe cases surgery may be recommended.

    Understanding what trigger finger is, what the causes and symptoms are, and what the conventional solutions are can help you recognize this condition and know how to do something about it in its early stage.

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    References

    WebMD <http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/trigger-finger>

    Mayo Clinic <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trigger-finger/DS00155/DSECTION=symptoms>

    American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons <http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00024>

    photo credit: Core Force (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/coreforce/3104671551/sizes/m/in/photostream/>