Arthritis or Stenosing Tenosynovitis? Your Thumb Pain Explained

thumb Fitzmaurice Hand InstituteStenosing tenosynovitis (more commonly known as “trigger thumb”) is a painful condition that results when inflammation causes the tunnel (sheath) that surrounds the tendon in the thumb to narrow and harden. The condition causes the thumb to lock in the bent position, followed by a snap back into the straight position, like the motion of a trigger. Severe cases can sometimes cause the finger to remain locked in a bent position.

What are the Symptoms of Trigger Finger?

The most common symptoms are stiffness and tenderness in the thumb, as well as a “popping” and “clicking” sensation, which is often worse in the morning. Other symptoms can include:

  • Bump at the base of the thumb
  • Thumb gets stuck in the bent position and suddenly pops back into place
  • Inability to straighten finger from the bent position

What Causes Trigger Finger?

Engaging in repetitive gripping motions over time can lead to inflammation that causes the thumb to lock. The condition is also more common in women, and can affect patients with diabetes. Rheumatoid arthritis can also increase the risk of developing trigger thumb.

While the most common activities that require repeated gripping motions and overuse of the fingers are sports like golf, tennis, and baseball, day to day activities like gripping a steering wheel or the handles of a bike, to using the thumbs to type on the keyboard of a smartphone or tablet can take a toll on the joints and tendons that control the movement of the fingers.

Each tendon consists of a protective sheath designed to keep it moving freely and flexibly, but when the tendon sheath becomes narrow or obstructed due to inflammation and nodules (bumps), it can lead to pain and impaired movement of the hands, wrists, and fingers, depending on the location and cause of the injury.

Not All Thumb Pain is Equal – Stenosing Tenosynovitis vs Thumb Arthritis

There are many potential sources and causes for hand pain, and not all pain, soreness, and stiffness is caused by a tendon or nerve injury. Arthritis is a very common condition that affects millions of people in the United States and around the world each year. Although it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between different types of pain, conditions like arthritis and trigger thumb have distinct sets of symptoms and effects on movement and range of motion of the thumb and affected fingers.

What are the Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis?

In addition to pain and swelling, arthritis also causes:

  • Tenderness at base of thumb
  • Stiffness
  • Weakened grip and limited range of motion when performing pinching or gripping motions
  • Enlargement or protruding at base of affected thumb

What Causes Arthritis in the Hands and Fingers?

The most common cause of arthritis is age, and the natural wear and tear and degeneration over time of the cartilage that protects the joints. Traumatic injuries can also cause cartilage and joint damage that can increase the risk of developing arthritis. Other risk factors include:

  • Gender (more common among women)
  • Age (risk increases over age 40)
  • Lifestyle factors like obesity and occupations that require mechanical/repetitive motions that cause strain on the thumb joint
  • Traumatic injuries resulting in fractures and sprains
  • Laxity and malformation of ligaments and joints
  • Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis

How are Trigger Thumb and Arthritis Treated?

endotech videoLike any condition, the treatment options for trigger thumb and arthritis depend on the severity, and are diagnosed and treated on a case by case basis at the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Phoenix. Diagnosing trigger thumb and arthritis usually involves a physical exam and medical history, as well as diagnostic imaging tests like X-rays or MRI. The Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Phoenix is equipped with MRI and state of the art diagnostic technology in order to offer patients all of the services they need in one location.

The treatments for thumb arthritis vary from conservative treatments like splints and medication, to injection therapy, and surgery for more advanced cases of cartilage damage and joint deterioration. Advanced treatments like surgery are typically reserved for cases where more conservative treatments have failed.

At the Fitzmaurice Hand Institute in Phoenix, Dr. Fitzmaurice offers his exclusive, minimally-invasive hand surgery technology, The EndoTech® Endoscopic Trigger Thumb Release system, which provides greater visualization, precision, and accuracy of the tunnel sheath, therefore, minimizing the risk of damage to neighboring nerves and tissue during treatment. Endotech uses a small incision through which Dr. Fitzmaurice can divide inflamed and hardened tissue to relieve pain and restore proper function to the affected finger. It is an outpatient procedure with far fewer risks and side effects than traditional surgery.

Trigger Thumb Treatment in Phoenix, AZ

Whether you are suffering from pain and stiffness in your thumb, wrists, or hands, board-certified orthopedic hand surgeon Dr. Michael Fitzmaurice can help. Contact the Fitzmaurice Hand Clinic in Phoenix at 406-696-6618 to learn more about minimally invasive hand injury treatments, and to schedule a consultation today.

Next, read Different Hand Injuries and Tips to Accelerate Healing