Common hand complaints explained
We use our hands throughout the day with a high level of function we often take for granted.
As a hand and upper extremity specialist, I see dozens of patients each week who complain of fingers that lock, click or go numb.
These conditions are annoying, painful and are generally seen more often in women than in men. They’re particularly common in patients whose work requires repetitive use of the hands.
A condition commonly referred to as trigger finger happens when the thumb or fingers lock and catch with bending and straightening. Flexor tendons allow fingers to bend, passing through a series of small bands in the palm and fingers called pulleys. This gives the tendon the mechanical advantage that allows the finger to bend smoothly by holding the tendon close to the bone.
Repetitive activities or underlying conditions such as diabetes can inflame the pulleys, causing a popping sensation when the tendon goes through the pulley. Patients relay that the finger is “stuck” or clicks when they open and close their hand.
Numbness and tingling
Another common hand complaint is numbness and tingling that involves the thumb, index and middle fingers. Patients tell me they can’t sleep because the numbness and pain in their hand wakes them up at night.
This syndrome represents inflammation within the carpal tunnel located at the wrist and palm region. Within the carpal tunnel runs the median nerve and flexor tendons. When repetitive activity, pregnancy or certain health conditions cause swelling in the canal, the blood supply for the nerve is impaired – hence the symptoms of pain and numbness in the hand and fingers.
Good news – there are both nonsurgical and surgical treatments for these conditions. Unless symptoms have been present consistently for months, I will recommend a cortisone injection to address the swelling that is causing locking in the fingers or numbness and tingling in the hands. I give these injections in the office daily – they are quick, and we use a topical freezing spray that minimizes discomfort.
When symptoms are present continuously and have failed to respond to conservative treatment, our next step is to discuss minimally invasive orthopedic surgeries that can be accomplished on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. I explain to patients that they won’t feel pain and that I’ll be able to talk with them throughout the procedure, explaining each step in the process.
Patients undergoing these procedures can begin using their hand immediately following surgery. While there may be incisional soreness for a few weeks, most patients do very well and quickly return to regular activity.
Minimally invasive interventions can bring relief to nagging, uncomfortable symptoms that interfere with the important role of the hands in work or leisure activities.
About the Author
Dr. Marcus Talerico is a board-certified Lake County orthopedic surgeon with Advocate Medical Group Orthopedics and Advocate Condell Medical Center. A specialist in disorders of the hand and upper extremities, as well as orthopedic trauma, Dr. Talerico sees patients in Libertyville.