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Trigger finger is a condition in which a person's finger locks or catches if they try to straighten or bend it. Depending on the condition's severity, doctors will recommend either surgical treatments, medications, or some home remedies.

Most people experience trigger finger in the fourth (ring) finger or the thumb, but the condition can affect any of the fingers.

Trigger finger is the result of inflammation in or around the flexor tendons. Flexor tendons are responsible for moving the fingers.

More specifically, it occurs due to the inflammation of "pulleys," which are bands of tissue that attach the finger bone to the flexor tendon. The inflammation of the pulleys affects the finger's ability to move smoothly.

Read this article to learn about the treatment options for trigger finger, as well as some of the causes and the prevention methods.

a person holding their finger because they have trigger finger. Share on Pinterest
There are a number of nonsurgical options to treat trigger finger.

A doctor will usually recommend treating trigger finger nonsurgically when a person starts having problems with the condition. People can try most of these methods at home. They include:

Resting

As trigger finger can result from overuse, simply resting the hand and finger can often reduce symptoms. People may need to rest this part of the body for 1–2 weeks to see results.

Taking over-the-counter medications

Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, may help reduce pain and inflammation from trigger finger.

Splinting

A trigger finger splint usually wraps around the palm and has a small covering for the lower portion of the affected finger. This splint allows a person to bend the top portion of their finger without moving the part closest to the palm.

You can purchase a trigger finger splint here.

Exercising the hand and finger

Hand and finger exercises can stretch and strengthen the muscles around the tendons, which may help reduce stiffness and pain. However, it is important to avoid overexercising and to discontinue any exercise that increases pain.

Applying ice

Applying a cloth covered ice pack to the affected finger and palm for 10–15 minutes at a time may help reduce inflammation. A person should try to ice their finger between three and five times a day.

Using adaptive tools

Placing protective, soft-grip covers over steering wheels, power tools, bicycle handles, and even pens can help reduce the effects of friction and potentially lessen the inflammation that leads to trigger finger.

Getting steroid injections

Doctors can inject corticosteroids around the tendon sheath in the affected finger. These drugs may help reduce the incidence of trigger finger pain and limit the impairment of movement. Sometimes, a person may require two or three injections to experience symptom relief.

According to the findings of a retrospective study in The Journal of Hand Surgery, 39% of people with trigger finger reported long-term relief after a second or third trigger finger injection.

Those who received three injections for trigger finger reported relief of their symptoms for an average of 407 days.

If a person tries nonsurgical treatment methods but still experiences trigger finger, a doctor will often recommend surgery. A doctor is also likely to recommend surgery if a finger becomes permanently "caught" or bent out of position.

Surgeons usually take one of two approaches to treating trigger finger. The first is to make a small incision in the palm to release the pulley that is affecting finger movement. The second is to insert a needle into the affected area to release the pulley.

There is some evidence to suggest that open surgery may reduce the incidence of pain and other symptoms to a greater extent than steroid injections. However, this research only reports on the first 6–12 months after surgery. Therefore, doctors do not yet know whether surgery provides long-term relief from trigger finger.

Read more about what to expect from trigger finger surgery here.

Sometimes, a person develops trigger finger for no known reason. Other times, one of the following factors may be responsible:

  • Certain medical conditions: Diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are known contributors to trigger finger.
  • Finger overuse: People who work with their hands, especially those performing vigorous activities using machinery or tools that require gripping, have an increased risk of developing trigger finger.
  • Contact friction: Sometimes, the repeated use of power tools that vibrate in the hand or even holding bicycle handles can lead to trigger finger.

A specific injury does not usually cause trigger finger.

The condition most commonly affects those in their 40s and 50s, according to an article in the journal Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. The article also states that females are about six times more likely than males to experience trigger finger.

People with diabetes are also at a higher risk of trigger finger. An estimated 10% of people with diabetes have trigger finger compared with 2–3% of the general population.

The symptoms of trigger finger typically include:

  • a visible or tender lump on the palm at the finger's base
  • a finger that catches, locks, or makes popping noises with movement
  • pain and discomfort when straightening or bending the finger

A person will often notice their symptoms worsening after a period of using their hands more. The symptoms are also usually more prominent in the morning.

As the symptoms of trigger finger are so distinctive, a doctor can usually diagnose the condition by carrying out a physical examination.

Exercises to stretch and strengthen the wrists and fingers can help people with trigger finger and those with a history of the condition prevent and reduce pain. Some examples of exercises that may help prevent trigger finger include:

Wrist stretching

To stretch the wrists:

  • Place the palms together in front of the chest, feeling a gentle stretch in the wrists.
  • Slowly lower the palms toward the belly button to increase the stretching sensation.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds, then release.

Fingertip bend

This exercise helps bend the top of the finger joint. People can follow the steps below to perform it:

  • Hold one hand at face level and place the opposite hand around the painful finger, just below the fingertip.
  • Slowly bend the fingertip at the top joint, keeping the remainder of the finger straight.
  • Repeat 10 times on each painful finger.

Middle joint bend

A person can try this exercise after the fingertip bend:

  • Hold the affected finger at the base of the finger joint and bend it at the middle portion of the finger.
  • Slowly straighten the finger.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Although the exercises above may seem simple, they are very effective in helping a person relieve stress and tension in their fingers and hands.

Another option is to knead or shape clay or playdough. This activity is also an effective way of stretching the hand and fingers. A person should repeat these exercises three to five times a day whenever possible.

Trigger finger can be painful and keep a person from performing everyday activities.

If a person thinks that they may have trigger finger, they should see a doctor for treatment recommendations before their condition worsens.

Home treatment methods are often very effective, and exercise can help prevent the condition. Doctors will recommend surgery only in severe cases.