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What is a trigger finger or trigger finger release?

What is a trigger finger or trigger finger release? Many patients have heard these medical terms or have been diagnosed with a trigger finger but do not understand what it is. The proper term for this problem is “stenosing tenosynovitis.” Symptoms often include catching or locking of 1 or multiple fingers in a flexed position. One of the first symptoms of trigger finger is soreness at the base of the finger or thumb. Triggering often occurs in the morning. Sometimes, the locked finger must be manually straightened out using the other hand. The finger can also lock in an extended position, making it difficult to bend. This can be very painful and limit both work and daily activities.

A trigger finger can be caused by a repeated movement or forceful use of the finger or thumb. It is also associated with rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and diabetes. Triggering happens when tendons in the finger or thumb become inflamed and swollen. A tendon usually glides easily through the sheath that covers it. When tendons become inflamed and swollen, bending the finger or thumb can pull the inflamed tendon through a narrowed tendon sheath, making it catch or lock. The sheath begins at the base of the finger, which is why patients have tenderness in this area. Early rest and anti-inflammatory treatment can help reduce swelling in a trigger finger and improve motion and pain. This can initially be done with a splint and oral anti-inflammatory medication. Steroid injections are also very effective for treatment of trigger fingers. Just over 50% of people who have trigger fingers are able to avoid a surgical trigger finger release with steroid injections. Research has also shown that after 2 or 3 injections, it is more beneficial to move forward with surgery rather than to continue having injections.

Trigger finger release is very effective, safe, and can be done with the patient awake using only local anesthesia. It is an outpatient procedure that often results in immediate improvement in motion and tendon gliding. Patients typically have residual swelling and stiffness for a few weeks after surgery, along with some temporary incision tenderness.

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