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What is trigger finger?

Trigger finger is a painful condition that causes the fingers or thumb to get stuck in a closed position when making a fist. The finger can get stuck in the bent or straight position. Pain occurs when the finger snaps out from the bent position, or when the finger snaps into the bent or locked position from the open position. It is most commonly found in people between the ages of 40 and 60 who participate in behaviors that involve repeated grasping of an object, including industrial workers, musicians, people who exercise with hand grippers, and smokers. It can also occur as a result of certain diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and gout. Trigger finger is more common among women than men and symptoms include popping, catching, pain and limited movement in the finger.

Trigger finger occurs when tendons of the finger or thumb become inflamed. As the flexor tendon becomes irritated, it can become thicker and develop a nodule, making it difficult to move the tendon through its protective covering (sheath) and causing the locking or snapping of the finger. If left untreated, trigger finger can cause joint stiffness, which is difficult to treat.

Our doctors work closely with the hand therapy team at Northwell Health’s Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services (STARS) to offer occupational therapy and guidance every step of the way.

What to expect

During the consultation with your physician, your hand will be examined and may require additional studies, such as:

  • X-ray – This usually will be the first test done to try to locate any abnormalities. Electromagnetic radiation is used to produce images of your hand and wrist to check for any breakages.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) – A CAT scan combines the X-ray approach with computer-generated technology to create a more complex image.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – Different from X-rays and CAT scans, MRIs use a magnetic field and radio waves to generate an image instead of radiation. You’re placed in a tube and radio waves are aimed at your hand and wrist, causing them to vibrate. A computer then translates the rate of the vibrations into a high-definition image.

CT and MRI scans are generally ordered to assess more serious conditions or complex problems and after fractures and other injuries, especially when plain X-rays do not give a full picture of the problem. These advanced imaging techniques are not generally needed in treating trigger fingers.

After physical examination and evaluation of the results of the diagnostic tests, your doctor will recommend a course of treatment, which may include a nonsurgical or surgical approach.

Complications

Complications from trigger finger release surgery are minimal and include incomplete release of the sheath and injury to the tendons or nerves that sit next to it. While rare, both complications are more common after percutaneous surgery than open release surgery.

Recovery

Recovery from trigger finger surgery is usually quick and uneventful. Most patients are able to use their finger once the anesthetic wears off, though soreness in the area of the surgery lingers for a few weeks and is common. Your doctor will recommend that you keep your hand elevated to minimize swelling. Hand therapy may be prescribed and full recovery is usually complete within a few days or weeks.

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