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What is a trigger finger?

Debra Fulghum Bruce PhD
Healthcare Specialist

Trigger finger is a common cause of hand pain. It is due to inflammation of a sheath around a tendon that moves the finger. This is usually caused by wear-and-tear changes, and either the tendon swells or the sheath around the tendon shrinks. The tendon slides one way easier than the other, which causes the pain and makes the finger feel like it snaps or catches like a trigger when it is moved. The finger may stop movement in a bent or in a straight position and be painful when it is moved further. Patients feel the need to use the other hand to straighten or bend the trigger finger.

Usually the more the trigger finger is used, the more painful it becomes. The trigger finger may improve when rested but usually requires an injection of cortisone to improve the inflammation around the tendon. If the injection does not work or is not long-lasting enough, an outpatient operation can surgically fix the trigger finger tendon problem.

A trigger finger is when the finger becomes locked or catches when attempting to open or close the hand. It is caused by inflammation (swelling) that prevents the tendon from sliding smoothly in the hand. The tendon is a long and thin piece of tissue that attaches the muscles in the forearm to bone in the finger. Once you develop a trigger finger the treatment is usually an injection (corticosteroid) into the hand to decrease the pressure on the tendon.

The common term "trigger finger" is used in place of the technical term "stenosing flexor tenosynovitis"; "itis" means inflammation, and "syno" refers to the nourishing lining around the "teno" or tendon, so a tenosynovitis is simply an inflammation of the nourishing lining around a tendon. "Flexor" refers to a tendon that serves to flex a digit or joint and "stenosing" refers to a restriction or tightening of some structure.

Put it all together, and you have an inflammation of the nourishing lining around a flexor tendon(s) in the palm as a result of a stricture of the opening of the sheath through which the tendon(s) travel. This can be a painful (and sometimes debilitating) condition, but can be easily treated by a skilled practitioner. Typical treatment options would include warm water soaks in the morning, oral anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections and surgical release of the stricture.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.