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When Trigger Finger and Carpal Tunnel Are Related

December 17, 2021

When it comes to the hands and wrists, several conditions can affect their function. Two of the most common are trigger finger and carpal tunnel. Hartford HealthCare’s Jocelyn Maminta recently spoke with orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Kristin Sandrowski with the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute at St. Vincent’s Medical Center about these painful conditions and when to see a doctor. “Trigger finger is an inflammation of the tendons that flex or bend our fingers,” said Dr. Sandrowski. “The finger can start to click and get stuck to the point where you physically have to open it with your other hand. It can be very painful.” Pain from trigger finger is felt below the knuckles on the palm side of the hand. As a finger is bent it will snap down and remain stuck. Patients typically describe the pain as being worse in the morning. Trigger finger can affect anyone. Risk factors include:

  • Diabetes.
  • Thyroid disorders.
  • Pregnancy.
Dr. Sandrowski said that she often warns patients that trigger finger and carpal tunnel are related, meaning that one usually accompanies the other. “Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the nerve at the level of the wrist,” she said. “The pressure on the nerve causes pain, numbness and tingling.” Similar to trigger finger, risk factors include diabetes, thyroid disorders and pregnancy. A common myth is that carpal tunnel is caused by typing on a computer for an extended time. While that alone cannot cause carpal tunnel, it can make symptoms worse. “If typing on a computer is making your pain worse, try to keep your wrist in a more neutral straight position,” Dr. Sandrowski said. “That can help to decrease the symptoms.” The goal in treating both trigger finger and carpal tunnel is to avoid surgery. For trigger finger, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are used if caught early and if that does not work a steroid injection is the next step. For carpal tunnel, patients are advised to wear a brace at night to keep the nerve from being compressed. If these interventions are not successful, surgery is the next option to relieve the symptoms. Recent advances in hand surgery include minimally invasive procedures and minimal anesthesia. “We use local medicine to numb the area, similar to what you would receive at the dentist,” she explained. “We can either use no anesthesia or a very little amount of anesthesia, so you can be awake. Then we can do these surgeries through small incisions.” Dr. Sandrowski recommends seeing a doctor before the symptoms start to interfere with your everyday life.