What Is Trigger Thumb or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?


Quick Answer

Trigger thumb is a condition that restricts the thumb to a bent position, making it difficult to straighten, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in the hand and forearm is compressed by surrounding tissue, causing numbness or soreness.

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Full Answer

Trigger thumb typically makes the finger feel stuck in place when the individual tries to unbend it, and the tendon may make a popping sound when the thumb suddenly extends, states the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The flexor tendon runs through the thumb, attaching its bones to muscles extending up the entire forearm. The tendon slides through a sheath tunnel and aids movement by placing tension on the thumb bones. An inflamed flexor tendon may swell or form lumps, creating unhealthy friction as it tries to move through the sheath opening. Trigger thumb is often treated by simply allowing the tendon to heal and taking medication for pain relief, but persistent triggering may require surgically cutting the tendon sheath.

In contrast, carpal tunnel syndrome affects the hand's sensory functions, causing tingling or pain. The carpal tunnel consists of the bones that form the wrist's internal structure and the surrounding ligamentary tissue, explains the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel and branches off into the fingers where it enables the palm's sensory feeling. Since the median nerve lies close to the flexor tendons, any abnormal swelling of the lubricated tissues around the tendons can put excessive pressure on the nerve.

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