Living With Chronic Pain

Trigger Finger

Have you ever had a trigger finger? A finger that locks, catches or doesn’t want to move normally? Trigger fingers occur when the tendons that flex the digit become inflamed and painful to move, making it difficult to straighten and bend. Sometimes it progresses to the point where all movement is restricted. 

Years ago, I was sure I needed to lift heavier free weights in order to get better and faster fitness results. This endeavor not only caused a ruptured disc in my neck but also a triggering of my right third digit. Apparently, this is a common problem in weight lifters, regardless of the weight. Clutching the barbell tightly and then moving it in repetitive motions exerts too much pressure on the tendons doing the work.

Tendons are bands of tissue that attach muscles to bones. In the hand, tendons and muscles must work together to flex and straighten our fingers and thumbs. Usually, they slide easily through a tunnel of tissue called a sheath. The sheath keeps them in place next to their respective bones. In a trigger finger or thumb, the tendons become irritated and swollen (inflamed) and can no longer easily slide through their sheaths. A bump (nodule) can then form on the tendon, which makes it even more difficult for the tendon to easily glide through its sheath, further restricting movement. The more the pressure as it goes through the sheath, the more it catches and the more it catches the bigger the knot. Prolonged irritation of the tendon sheath can result in the finger eventually getting stuck in a bent position that’s impossible to straighten.

Fortunately, in my case, I had caught it early and the solution was easy- wear weight-lifting gloves. This would prevent my hand from creating a tight fist and putting too much pressure on the tendon. 

But little did I know that just using the iPad hours a day would produce another cause for concern. Keeping the iPad secure for hours while I read or input data has put incredible stress on my thumbs. After just a few months they started to ache, then click and catch. At one point I actually had to decide which position to keep them in- up or down! That’s when I knew an intervention was needed.

Symptoms

  • Finger stiffness, particularly in the morning
  • A popping or clicking sensation as you move your finger
  • Tenderness or a bump (nodule) in the palm at the base of the affected finger
  • Finger catching or locking in a bent position, which suddenly pops straight
  • Finger locked in a bent position, which you are unable to straighten

Trigger finger can affect any finger, including the thumb. More than one finger and both hands may be affected at the same time. Triggering is usually more pronounced in the morning, while firmly grasping an object or when straightening the finger.

Risk factors

  • Repeated gripping. Occupations and hobbies that involve repetitive hand use and prolonged gripping may increase your risk of trigger finger.
  • Certain health problems. People who have diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk of developing trigger finger.
  • Your sex. Trigger finger is more common in women.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery. Trigger finger may be a complication associated with surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, especially during the first six months after surgery.
  • Your age. More common in ages 19 and older.

Treatment

Trigger finger treatment varies depending on its severity and duration.

Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve) – may relieve the pain but are unlikely to relieve the swelling constricting the tendon sheath or trapping the tendon. And for many, their use is not recommended, always clear with your provider.

Therapy

  • Rest. Avoid activities that require repetitive gripping, repeated grasping or the prolonged use of vibrating hand-held machinery until your symptoms improve. If avoidance is impossible, padded gloves may offer some protection.
  • A splint. Wearing one at night to keep the affected finger in an extended position for up to six weeks may help rest the tendon.
  • Stretching exercises. Gentle exercises may to help maintain mobility in the affected finger.

Surgical and other procedures

  • Steroid injection. An injection of a steroid medication near or into the tendon sheath may reduce inflammation and allow the tendon to glide freely again. This is the most common treatment, and it’s usually effective for a year or more. It is most effective in most people treated in conjunction with lifestyle changes. But sometimes it takes more than one injection. This helped my thumbs. Even though researchers found that symptoms reoccur 12 months after the injection in 56 percent of affected digits, corticosteroid injection treatments are quick and simple and often puts off more invasive surgery. For people with diabetes, steroid injections tend to be less effective.
  • Percutaneous release. After numbing your palm, a needle is inserted into the tissue around the affected tendon. Moving the needle and your finger helps break apart the constriction that’s blocking the smooth motion of the tendon.
  • Surgery. Working through a small incision near the base of the finger, a surgeon can cut open the constricted section of tendon sheath.

Those of us dealing with a trigger finger understand how intrusive and painful they can be. Talk to your provider and learn which option is best for you before it becomes debilitating.

-mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/trigger-finger/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20365148

-orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/trigger-finger

-my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7080-trigger-finger–trigger-thumb

-.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18676896

-mdorthospecialists.com/blog/what-makes-women-more-susceptible-to-trigger-finger

5 thoughts on “Trigger Finger”

  1. Hello, I was looking for information about trigger finger during weightlifting and I found your article. I hope your issues with it are gone by now.
    I’m having the lock in the third finger since 45 days ago, right when I began to do some bicep and hammer curls. It has been getting worse step by step every week.
    So I’m looking into a pair of gloves and I have found out that the standard gloves do not cover the full fingers.
    I know every case is different, but what kind of glove did you get ? Thin ? Full ?

    Thanks in advance,
    Ernesto.

    1. Hi Ernesto,
      Thanks so much for you question and for reading our post!
      Most triggers are from creating too tight a fist that exerts extreme pressures on the ligaments and tendons. Anything, including a gloves that don’t entirely fit the hand will ease the stress enough to accomplish this goal. Mine only fit half the fingers too.

  2. Hi I’m Marcus I have encountered trigger thumb in my left hand. At first I was noticing a lot of clicking and stiffness and the thumb but “NO” intense pain only when I try to bend it. I believe this has came from me lifting weights without gloves. This has been going on for about 3 weeks now and now I am starting to have some real concerns that I may need to go see a doctor before this gets worse. The funny thing about it I am not in any pain due to the research I have been doing about this issue I have been wearing a splint to keep the thumbs straight. Now the finger will not bend at all. I have just recently purchased some padded weight lifting gloves and my question is will that ease some of the pressure on my thumb or will this make matters worse? I am not lifting extremely heavy but medium moderately. Or should I stop lifting weights all together and see what the doctor says first?
    Thanks,

    1. Hello! Trigger fingers occur from irritation and inflammation on the tendon that then produces a lump at the base of the finger. Tendons move through a sheath. When there’s a lump it causes it to catch as it goes through the sheath, impeding movement. The more it’s impacted the worse it gets until it locks up.

      Often, stopping the repetitive action causing the issue will calm it down, but immobilization is not recommended.

      For thumbs think about how you input on your devices as well as weight lifting.
      Gloves that prevent making a tight fist can help.
      Often these simple measures will offer significant improvement.

      If they do not or you can’t move the finger at all, or the digit catches to the point it can’t be flexed or extended, seek care. Thanks for checking out the post! -Dr. Courtney

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