Tendons are tough cords that join bone to muscle. They move the bone when the muscle contracts. In the hand, tendons run along the front and back of the bones in the fingers and are attached to the muscles in the forearm.
The tendons on the palm side of the hand (flexor tendons) are held in place by strong bands of tissue, known as ligaments, which are shaped in arches over the tendon. The tendons are covered by a protective sheath which produces a small amount of fluid to keep the tendons lubricated. This allows them to move freely and smoothly within the sheath when the fingers are bent and straightened.
Trigger finger occurs if there's a problem with the tendon or sheath, such as inflammation and swelling. The tendon can no longer slide easily through the sheath and can bunch up to form a small lump (nodule). This makes bending the affected finger or thumb difficult. If the tendon gets caught in the sheath, the finger can click painfully as it's straightened.
The exact reason why these problems occur is not known, but several factors may increase the likelihood of trigger finger developing. For example, it's more common in women, people over 40 years old, and those with certain medical conditions.
Another hand-related condition called Dupuytren's contracture can also increase your risk of developing trigger finger. In Dupuytren's contracture, the connective tissue in the palm of the hand thickens, causing 1 or more fingers to bend into the palm of the hand.
In some people, trigger finger may get better without treatment.
However, if it is not treated, there's a chance the affected finger or thumb could become permanently bent, which will make performing everyday tasks difficult.
If treatment is necessary, several options are available, including:
Surgery is usually only used when other treatments have failed. It can be up to 100% effective, although you may need to take 2 to 4 weeks off work to fully recover.
Trigger finger is generally less common in children than in adults, but sometimes young children aged between 6 months and 3 years develop it. It can affect the child's ability to straighten their thumb, but it's rarely painful and usually gets better without treatment.
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