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Massage Today
May, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 05

Trigger Finger

By Ben Benjamin, PhD

Question:  Trigger finger is caused by a swollen tendon or tendon sheath. True or False?

Answer:  True. In a person with trigger finger, swelling of the flexor tendon or swelling within its sheath causes the tendon to temporarily become stuck inside the tendon sheath.

The flexor tendons of the fingers and thumb run through a sheath (a lubricated compartment).

As a finger straightens and bends, its flexor tendon slides back and forth within the sheath. Inflammation of the tendon (tendinitis) or the sheath (tenosynovitis) can decrease the amount of space in the compartment, restricting the movement of the tendon. As the person attempts to straighten the affected finger, the tendon gets stuck inside its sheath. When enough force is exerted, the finger extends abruptly, with a popping sound (an effect similar to pulling a trigger). This often is painful.

Trigger finger is a common pain problem, especially in people between the ages of 40 and 60, and it occurs more frequently in women than in men. It might affect only one finger or several fingers at once. This condition is worse after periods of inactivity, and often is more pronounced when the person wakes up. The first sign might be a mild popping or the appearance of a small bump on the finger. The cause of trigger finger is unknown.

The most frequently recommended treatment options are finger splints and injections. In mild cases, massage and rest might be helpful. When the finger cannot be straightened out, surgery sometimes is considered.

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