Experiencing Trigger Finger? Try Physical Therapy

Doctor checking finger

Can’t move your finger? It could be due to an orthopedic condition known as trigger finger. Learn more about the causes and treatments. 

We use our fingers so much in our daily lives — from typing to grasping objects to pointing and much more — that we often take these moveable joints for granted. But if your finger suddenly stiffens and you can’t accomplish your normal daily tasks, you’re sure to stop taking those joints for granted fast. What’s behind this stiffening? It’s most likely an orthopedic condition known as trigger finger.

Trigger finger can affect any finger, including the thumb, and may strike a single digit or multiple at once. Common trigger finger symptoms include general stiffness or a finger locking in a bent position. You may hear a clicking sound when you move your finger or feel soreness or a lump at the base of the finger. Treatment for trigger finger starts with conservative methods of rest and physical therapy. But first, let’s look at what causes trigger finger.

Trigger Finger Causes

Trigger finger, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis or flexor tendonitis, is an inflammation of the sheath covering the tendon in the finger. The sheath allows the tendon to move freely. But when it’s irritated or inflamed, the finger stiffens and cannot straighten itself. Prolonged inflammation can also lead to scarring and bumps forming in the tendon, which further restricts the finger’s ability to move.

Similar to so many other orthopedic disorders, trigger finger develops as a result of repetitive motions. People who work at jobs requiring them to continually grasp or bend their fingers, such as musicians, tend to develop trigger finger in greater numbers. People who have diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or who have had carpal tunnel syndrome surgery before stand a greater chance of developing trigger finger. The condition also strikes more women than men.

Treating Trigger Finger: Home Remedies

Your orthopedist can diagnose trigger finger with a physical examination to feel for any areas of tenderness or swelling. During the examination you will also be asked to open and close your hand to pinpoint the center of the pain or see if your finger locks up.

Initial trigger finger treatments typically involve conservative methods, beginning with avoiding activities that cause the pain and stiffness. You may need to wear a splint to immobilize the finger and give the tendon time to heal. This period of rest could take between four to six weeks.

If your trigger finger is caused by an underlying chronic condition such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis (instead of just repetitive motions), treatment for those disorders can help relieve the symptoms of trigger finger.

Another treatment option to reduce pain and swelling is to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. A good home remedy for bringing down the swelling is to apply ice to the finger for 15 minutes three times a day is recommended. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a steroid injection into the affected finger.

Treating Trigger Finger: Physical Therapy and Surgery

One of the most effective ways to treat trigger finger is through physical therapy, which can effectively increase flexibility and strength in the finger and hand. Your physical therapist may also massage the finger gently to break up any scar tissue on the tendon, which can alleviate pain and improve your range of motion.

If conservative methods fail to restore mobility, surgery may be your next step. In a percutaneous release procedure, a needle inserted into the finger tendon loosens it so the finger can move smoothly again. This procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis. After surgery, you must keep the finger dry by covering it with plastic wrap when showering. You’ll wear a bandage for a few days. Once the bandage is removed, you should move your finger as much as possible to speed up the healing process. 

It’s important to remember that surgery is only recommended when other conservative techniques are unsuccessful and your quality of life is significantly impaired by trigger finger. In most cases, trigger finger resolves without surgery and you can return to normal activities without pain or stiffness.

Treat Your Trigger Finger Today

The physicians and physical therapists at New York Bone & Joint Specialists are experts in treating painful conditions of the joints, including your hands and fingers. Our first priority is ensuring quality of life to your patients with conservative treatments and surgery when necessary. Contact us today for a consultation.

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