Common ailments

Trigger finger

I have recently developed a very painful finger in my right hand which frequently locks and becomes very stiff.  A colleague tells me it is something called trigger finger. My job involves a lot of computer work and perhaps that is what has caused it, but is there anything I can do about it?

Trigger finger is a condition that causes the finger or thumb to lock briefly and then suddenly release as you try to bend or straighten it. The symptoms can include pain, stiffness, clicking and a small lump or nodule in the palm at the base of the affected finger or thumb.

Trigger finger affects the tendons in our hand (the fibrous cords that join bone to muscle). Those tendons are held in place by strong bands of tissue known as ligaments which form a tunnel or sheath that the tendons slide through. Trigger finger occurs when there is a problem with a tendon or the sheath, such as swelling, which prevents the tendon from sliding easily through the sheath.

The exact reason why these problems develop is not known but the condition appears to be most common in people aged over 40 and those that have certain long-term conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes.

In some people, trigger finger gets better without treatment, and there are several things you can do to help with the inflammation and pain in the meantime. These include resting your hand whenever possible, wearing a splint and taking an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as Ibuprofen. You should probably also avoid certain activities which involve excessive strain on your hand, such as using a keyboard other than in the course of your work, for a while.

If the problem is not settling on its own I would recommend you visit your GP, particularly if the condition is causing you a lot of difficulty. They will be able to examine your hand and recommend suitable treatment such as injection of a steroid. This works in the majority of cases. If all other treatments fail, surgery is an option; a relatively quick and simple procedure can be performed to release the affected sheath, allowing the affected tendon to move more freely again. 

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