Unexpected… Pregnancy Related Hand & Wrist Problems, Part 3 (Trigger Finger)

This is the last part of a three-part series on unexpected hand and wrist conditions experienced during pregnancy.  We have focused in this series on three of the most common conditions expectant moms may experience, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, de Quervain’s Tendonitis and Trigger Finger.

Last month we discussed deQuervain’s Tendonitis and the non invasive ways in which we address the condition – and prior to that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  In this last part of the series, we focus on Trigger Finger.

Any one of these conditions may be prompted in expectant moms as a result of the hormonal changes, increased blood flow and water retention and swelling in the body during pregnancy.

Trigger Finger is a disorder characterized by snapping and locking of the flexor tendon of the affected finger or thumb. The term Trigger Finger comes from the unlocking of the finger, in which case it pops back suddenly as if releasing a trigger.

Trigger Finger is the result of inflammation of tendons connecting muscles of the forearm to the finger and thumb bones.  This connection permits movement and bending. While in most cases the inflammation is the result of a repetitive or forceful use of the finger or thumb, medical conditions causing a change in tissues – such as pregnancy – may also prompt Trigger Finger.

One of the early symptoms of Trigger Finger is soreness at the base of the finger or thumb, followed by painful clicking or snapping when flexing or extending the affected finger.  Occasionally there may be swelling.  Periods of inactivity may make this worse, though eases with movement.  In more severe cases, the affected finger or thumb may lock in a flexed or extended position – and forced to straighten.  Joint stiffening may eventually occur.

Diagnosing and Treating Trigger Finger

Diagnosing Trigger Finger is done with a physical examination of the hand and assessment of the symptoms.

Treatment for Trigger Finger is generally conservative and may include:

  • Avoiding activity that aggravates the affected finger or thumb
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • A steroid injection into the tendon sheath

If conservative treatment is unable to resolve the condition, a minimally invasive surgical procedure to release the tendon sheath may be indicated.  Expectant women are advised to wait before considering surgical treatment as often times the condition is resolved following pregnancy – when the body resumes normal function.

Unexpected… Pregnancy Related Hand & Wrist Problems

Pregnancy, while one of the most exciting times of a woman’s life, can also present a few physical challenges – affecting parts of the body new moms-to-be may not expect.

During pregnancy women are not only adjusting to changes in the body necessary to create new life, but also other less expected changes resulting from the musculoskeletal challenges and overall physical demands pregnancy places on body function.  These demands come from added weight of carrying the baby as well as the reallocation of nutrients from mom to baby, hormonal changes and pregnancy-related fluid retention.  

It is this type of physical impact to seemingly unrelated areas of the body like the hands, wrist and elbow that takes most expectant women by surprise.

While problems in these areas might be expected after the baby is born – as extended holding in unusual positions, feeding positions, pushing of strollers and other unusual hand and upper extremity movements place stress on the hands, wrist and elbow – there are actually a number of hand and upper extremity pregnancy-related conditions women may experience.

Such conditions include carpal tunnel syndrome, deQuervain’s tendonitis, trigger finger and general swelling and tingling in the hands and upper extremity.

This article is one in a series focusing on pregnancy related conditions, beginning with carpal tunnel syndrome, as it is one of the most common hand and wrist conditions affecting pregnant women.  While often categorized as a “repetitive stress” condition – which affects those performing a repetitive tasks resulting in irritation and inflammation – it is often also commonly associated with pregnancy.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve passing through the narrow carpal tunnel of the wrist.  Increased fluid generated during pregnancy can cause the same inflammatory/compressive effect of repetitive stress generally associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often experienced in the third trimester when fluid retention is at its highest.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may include pain, tingling and numbness in one or both hands. It is traditionally addressed nonsurgically with behavior modification, rehabilitation exercises and bracing.  If bracing and activity modification do not alleviate the problem, a steroid injection may be given and usually resolves the problem within a day or two.  Patients infrequently will need surgery if the carpal tunnel syndrome is related to pregnancy.