Trigger finger

Definition

Trigger finger and trigger thumb consist in the altered movement causing an involuntary catching when flexing the finger towards the palm. In severe cases the fingers are locked in a flexed position and cannot be straightened.

Pathology

Trigger finger is a pathology of the flexor tendon, which connects the phalanges to the muscles in the palmar side of the forearm. The tendon is aligned with the finger and fixed by lateral ligaments named pulleys. The tenosynovium sheath encloses the tendon to facilitate its gliding when the finger is extended or flexed.

In trigger finger the irritated flexor tendon and pulleys become swollen occasionally leading to the formation of a nodule, which limits or blocks the sliding of the tendon during movement. A typical catching and popping noise can be heard during grasping function.

Causes

The irritation of the flexor tendon causing trigger finger is mostly a consequence of overuse of the hand; however the aetiology of this pathology remains unknown. The condition is more frequent in women and the adult/aged population. Apart from repetitive grasping/gripping function other causes leading to trigger finger include:

Tear to the flexor tendon

Infection of the synovium

Congenital condition predisposing to tendon nodule formation

Risk factors

Although risk factors leading to trigger finger have not been identified, the following factors may pose a risk:

Female gender

Age between 40 and 60 years

Occupational activities: repetitive gripping of power tools

Prolonged driving (grasping the steering wheel)

Daily activities: writing, carrying bags and briefcases

Medical conditions: diabetes increases four times the risk, rheumatoid arthritis

Symptoms

The symptoms arising from a trigger finger are:

Pain at the nodule site when flexing and extending the finger

Swelling

Clicking sensation when flexing the finger

Impaired finger extension

Movement restrictions (grasping) especially after inactivity

Blockage of the finger in a bent position

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of trigger finger does not require special tests or X-rays. Medical examination is based on:

Observation of the hand anatomy

Palpation to detect the presence of nodules at metacarpo-phalangeal or proximal-phalangeal joints

Assessing changes in finger flexion/extension, stiffness, pain level when opening/closing the fist 10 times

Audible clicking/popping noises

Treatment

Nonoperative treatment

Conservative treatment is the most common and efficacious management of trigger finger. if the condition has not been protracted over four months, physiotherapy and occupational therapy will restore successfully finger function. Conservative management also includes:

Immobilisation of the fingers with a splint until the inflammatory condition has subsided

Heat application

Administration of NSAIDs

Local steroid injection

Painkillers

Rehabilitation

A physical or occupational therapist will guide stretching movements to restore flexibility and physical exercises to strengthen the fingers and re-acquire fine motor control. Physiotherapy is recommended for 6 weeks. Full recovery after surgery can take up to 6 months. Advice on modifying daily activities is provided to avoid excessive stress on the affected tendon.

Prevention

There are no specific measures to prevent trigger finger. The best strategy is to avoid excessive strain of the flexor tendon during occupational and daily activities.