Finger Joint Pain

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This article is from Issue 99 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Q: Sometimes, my fingers painfully lock up while–or even after–using hand tools. What causes this, and what should I do about it?

Dale Kelly 
Dayton, OH


Finger joint diagram

A: These symptoms are common among woodworkers, especially those ages 50 to 60. The condition is called stenosing tenosynovitis, or “trigger finger.” It can cause popping or “catching” in the joint, along with limited finger mobility and moderate pain. The ring finger is often affected first, followed by the thumb. Many folks experience their fingers locking up several times a day, and as the condition progresses, they must use the other hand to unlock the affected finger.

Sufferers can develop a small lump or nodule in the palm, caused by inflammation of the hand’s tendon-and-pulley systems. This inflammation results in the narrowing of the pulley structure, impeding the gliding of the tendon that runs through it.

These symptoms, which are common in those with Rheumatoid Arthritis or diabetes, are often due to repetitive handwork or a continued force to the palm. For woodworkers, these activities include “power-gripping” chisels, hand saws, and other tools. One theory proposes that repetitive finger motion and trauma to the hand are the condition’s root cause. If left untreated, degenerative changes can occur in the tendon/pulley complex.

Conservative treatments include rest, splinting, and activity modification such as avoiding pressure on the tendon/pulley complex when handling tools. If the condition advances, corticosteroid injections or even surgery may be necessary.

Preventative measures include the proper use of tools that fit your hands comfortably without strain. Taking frequent breaks between repetitive-motion tasks that require prolonged hand-pressure will also help. If you experience trigger finger symptoms, consult a specialist of the hand and upper extremity as soon as possible.

Deb Hartenstein



Deb Hartenstein

Occupational Therapist, Certified Hand Therapist

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  • DK from Ashland
    Thanks, that makes sense.

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