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Massage Today
June, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 06

Finger Pain

By Ben Benjamin, PhD

Question: To test for the presence of arthritis in a finger joint, you perform varus and valgus tests on the finger. True or False?

Answer: False.

You perform passive flexion and extension tests.

The finger joints are hinge joints. This means they flex and extend easily but allow very little medial or lateral movement. When arthritis is present in one of these joints, the brain signals the synovial membrane within the joint to produce extra fluid; that causes pain and swelling, which limits flexion and extension. This is a common characteristic of many hinge joints throughout the body whenever they become inflamed; flexion and extension (their primary movements) become painful and limited.

Passive finger extension. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Figure 1. Passive finger extension (distal joint).
Passive finger flexion. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Figure 2. Passive finger flexion (distal joint).
Valgus of the finger joint. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Figure 3. Valgus of the finger joint.

Question: What structures are stressed by varus and valgus tests of the finger joints?

Answer: The collateral ligaments of the fingers.

Varus and valgus tests move the finger joints medially and laterally. As mentioned earlier, the fingers are not intended to move in those directions. In fact, if you accidentally stress one of your fingers in this way, the collateral ligaments of the finger likely are to become strained. Injury to these small ligaments also might cause the joint to swell as a protective mechanism. The swelling will then limit flexion and extension, as described above. When the collateral ligaments are inflamed, they are quite tender to the touch, and therefore it is easy to locate them - right at the lateral and medial edges of the joint. It also is very easy to treat them with friction therapy to reduce scar tissue formation.

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