Trigger thumb is a condition that can result in your thumb being bent inwards, toward your palm, or straightened with a snapping movement. According to Orthopod.com, rheumatoid arthritis, partial tendon lacerations, repeated trauma from pistol-gripped power tools, or long hours grasping a steering wheel can cause the flexor tendons to tighten, resulting in trigger thumb or finger. Surgery is an option for chronic cases; however, if you have had the condition less than four months, physical therapy exercises may help relieve symptoms.
According to RehabTeamSite, passive stretching is an important part of physical therapy exercises. With passive stretching, you will be applying an external force -- i.e. your other hand -- to stretch the affected joint. Passive motions allow the joint to perform some range-of-motion, or ROM, movements without putting additional strain on the tendons and ligaments. Your therapist may have you gently move your affected digit only to the point of resistance; stop the movement if you feel pain. Using your other hand, gently bend and straighten the thumb, states the RSI-Relief website, for a passive stretch of the joint. You can also move the thumb out to the side, stretching the web-space, and moving in a circle. Repeating these stretches daily can help improve ROM and relieve stiffness in the joint.
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RSI-Relief also recommends active stretching for trigger thumb therapy. For an active stretch, you will be moving the affected joint without assistance from an external force. Your therapist may have you straighten the thumb joint to the point of resistance. Although it may be difficult at first, with repetition, this movement can become easier. Extend the thumb outward, and try rotating it around in a small circle if you do not feel pain.
Performing exercises that work oppositional tendons, like the extensor digitorum, is also recommended by the RSI-Relief website. According to FamilyDoctor.org, begin by placing your hand, palm downward, on a table. Lift each digit, one at a time, as far as you can without pain. Focus on the affected digit; however, working the other fingers can improve overall hand strength.
Active Release Techniques
Active Release Techniques, or ART, is a treatment option your therapist may use. It works by reestablishing motion between fascia, or fibrous coverings, of bones, muscles, and tendons. ART can reduce adhesions that can cause trigger thumb, as well as promoting the smooth gliding motion needed in your tendons and ligaments. Your therapist will use his hands to locate nodules or adhesions in the affected area, and ask you to flex and extend your thumb. Throughout your movements, he will be applying tension and a form of massage to help break up the adhesions, promoting smooth motion in the joint.