Trigger Finger: Clicking, Locking, or Painful Finger

We use our hands almost constantly through the day. Some injuries can cause pain or dysfunction in the hand, which can disrupt many of our daily activities and lead to frustration. Today we will be discussing a condition called trigger finger, which can lead to pain, clicking, and locking of your finger in a curled position if not treated properly.

What is trigger finger?

Each finger is controlled by tendons that run through the finger and attach to muscles in the hand or forearm. To keep these tendons running smoothly through the finger, they run through sheaths at each finger joint. With repetitive use of these tendons or a trauma to the hand, these sheaths or tendons can become inflamed and cause symptoms. In the case of trigger finger, either the tendon becomes inflamed and thickens, or the sheath becomes inflamed and becomes narrower. In either case, this causes the tendon to get stuck trying to go through the sheath, resulting in the locking feeling of trigger finger. This condition most often affects the thumb and the ring fingers, although any finger can get it.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of trigger finger are pain, clicking, or locking of the finger as the tendon struggles to glide through the sheath. These symptoms can develop over time, with just pain at first with gradual clicking and then locking without the proper treatment.

Who does it affect?

There is no consensus on direct causes of trigger finger. It could be due to repetitive straining of the tendons in the fingers (e.g., prolonged and forceful gripping), or from a trauma to the area.

What else could this be?

There are many other conditions that present with pain and/or stiffness at the base of the finger:

  • Ganglion cyst
  • Dupuytren’s contracture
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Infection
  • Tumour
  • Loose body in the joint
  • Subluxation of the extensor tendon

Check in with a healthcare professional to find out if your trigger finger could be something else!

Physiotherapy treatment for trigger finger

Trigger finger often gets worse if left on its own. The earlier you can start treatment, the faster the symptoms can improve. Here are some physiotherapy treatment examples for trigger finger:

  • Activity modification: Trigger finger can worsen with repetitive activities that cause the symptoms. It is therefore important to minimize doing activities that cause the pain for the symptoms to calm down.
  • Exercise: Mobility exercises are key to getting your finger tendons working properly. Your physiotherapist will show you how to do these exercises properly so that you get the most benefit.
  • Splinting: In many cases the finger recovers better when it is physically restrained from going into painful positions. Thus, splinting can help recovery by resting the affected area.
  • Shockwave: In some cases, shockwave therapy can help to kickstart the healing process on the affected area (for information on how shockwave works, click here).
  • Surgery or injection: Your primary healthcare provider or specialist may recommend you receive a corticosteroid injection into the finger, which can help reduce pain and swelling, which in turn can reduce the clicking and locking of the tendon. In some cases, surgery might be an option if conservative treatment is not working.

If you are experiencing symptoms of trigger finger, book an appointment with us today to start getting your finger function back!

About The Author

Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.