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Can I Get Disability for Trigger Finger? Navigating the VA Process

November 1, 2023

Many veterans dealing with the after-effects of their service often ask, "Can I get disability for trigger finger?" 

Living with trigger finger can be extremely painful and debilitating. But did you know that you may be eligible for disability benefits if you have this condition? Trigger finger, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, can significantly impact your ability to work and perform everyday tasks. If you're struggling to find relief and are unable to work due to the pain and limitations caused by trigger finger, it may be worth exploring your options for disability benefits.

In this article, we will explore disability benefits for trigger finger, the criteria for qualifying as disabled, the process of applying for benefits, and what you can do to increase your chances of securing disability benefits. 

What is Trigger Finger?

“Trigger finger is the second most common hand condition, after carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Trigger finger, medically known as stenosing tenosynovitis, is a condition where one of your fingers gets stuck in a bent position. It can cause pain, stiffness, and a sensation of locking or catching when you bend or straighten the affected finger. 

Surprisingly, about 2% of the general population grapple with this condition, with a noticeable skew towards women, particularly in the prime of their fifth or sixth decade.1

Trigger finger arises from inflammation or narrowing of the sheath that surrounds the tendon in the affected finger. When the tendon sheath becomes too tight, it can impede the tendon's glide, causing the finger to catch or lock before popping straight. This can happen suddenly or develop over time, and the condition can vary from being a mild annoyance to a severe impediment that affects daily tasks. 

Often worse in the mornings, the stiffness and locking sensation may decrease as the finger is moved and warmed up throughout the day. However, in persistent cases, the finger may become locked in a bent position and may not straighten without assistance, necessitating medical intervention.

Can You Receive Disability Benefits for Trigger Finger?

Veterans who are experiencing trigger finger as a result of their military service may wonder if they are eligible for disability benefits. The VA does recognize trigger finger as a condition that can be service-connected, which means veterans can potentially receive disability benefits for it. The key to receiving benefits is to establish a clear service connection and to demonstrate how the condition impacts daily living and functionality.

What Causes Trigger Finger?

Trigger finger is most commonly associated with activities that require repetitive gripping or the prolonged use of tools that press firmly into the palm, which can lead to irritation or constriction of the tendons in the fingers. Frequent and repetitive motions can cause swelling and thickening of the tendon sheath, leading to the characteristic catching or locking of the finger.

Health conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are significant risk factors. Diabetics are particularly prone to developing trigger finger due to the glycosylation of tissues that causes them to become sticky, thereby impeding the smooth motion of tendons. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, leads to inflammation and nodules in the tendons, increasing the risk of developing this condition.

Moreover, individuals who engage in manual labor or hobbies that involve repetitive hand use and prolonged gripping may be more susceptible to developing trigger finger. For veterans, the link to trigger finger may be more direct; if their service involved repeated use of machinery or weapons, this could have placed strain on the tendons, potentially leading to the condition. Additionally, any direct injury to the finger or palm that causes swelling can also precipitate the onset of trigger finger in individuals predisposed to this condition.

Symptoms of Trigger Finger

As the condition of trigger finger develops, the symptoms often become more pronounced and may interfere with daily activities.2 In addition to the initial signs such as a tender lump in the palm and discomfort when moving the finger, individuals may experience:

  • Increased Frequency of Locking: Over time, the affected finger may begin to lock more frequently, or even get stuck in a bent position, necessitating the use of the other hand to straighten it.

  • Reduced Range of Motion: As stiffness increases, particularly after periods of inactivity such as in the morning, the range of motion in the finger may be reduced. The ability to fully flex or extend the finger becomes compromised, which can make simple tasks challenging.

  • Painful Snapping: The snapping or popping sensation when the finger is moved can become painful. This is a result of the tendon suddenly overcoming the resistance of the narrowed sheath and snapping into place.

  • Joint Pain: The base of the affected finger can become painful to the touch, and movement may exacerbate this pain, especially in more advanced cases.

Diagnosing Trigger Finger

“Accurate diagnosis of trigger finger, is essential for determining the correct VA disability rating, ensuring veterans receive appropriate compensation for their condition.”

During the diagnostic process, the healthcare provider may perform several tests to confirm the presence of trigger finger. They may ask the patient to open and close their hand, checking for smoothness of motion and noting any instances of locking or popping. This helps to determine the severity of the condition and identify which of the fingers are affected.

In some cases, the provider may palpate the palm to feel for the nodule or thickened area of the tendon sheath that is typical in trigger finger. The size and mobility of this nodule can provide information about the stage of the condition.

The examination may include a test for tenderness along the tendon sheath or at the base of the finger. This helps in ruling out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms, such as arthritis or a fracture.

In most instances, the diagnosis of trigger finger does not require advanced imaging tests. However, if there is uncertainty about the diagnosis or if an underlying condition such as arthritis is suspected, the provider may order ultrasound imaging or, in rare cases, an MRI to get a detailed view of the soft tissue structures in the hand.

The provider will also review the patient’s medical history, asking about previous hand injuries, activities that could contribute to repetitive strain, and the presence of health conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis that are known to be associated with trigger finger.

Based on the findings from the physical exam and medical history, a treatment plan can be formulated to help alleviate the symptoms and improve hand function.

Treatment Options for Trigger Finger

Non-surgical treatments are often the first approach for managing trigger finger. They can include:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Patients are advised to rest the affected finger and hand, and to avoid activities that involve repetitive gripping or that could exacerbate the condition.

  • Splinting: A splint may be used to keep the affected finger in an extended position to rest the tendon.

  • Anti-inflammatory Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Steroid Injections: Corticosteroid injections into the tendon sheath can reduce inflammation and allow smoother finger movement. This treatment can be effective for temporary relief but may not be a long-term solution for everyone.

  • Stretching Exercises: Gentle exercises may be recommended by a physical therapist to help maintain mobility in the finger.

When these treatments are not effective or suitable, or if the condition is severe, surgical options may be considered:

  • Percutaneous Release: This is a non-invasive procedure where a needle is used to break apart the constricted section of the tendon sheath.

  • Surgical Release: In this more traditional surgery, a small incision is made at the base of the affected finger, and the constricted section of the tendon sheath is cut to allow the tendon to move freely.

  • Tenosynovectomy: In chronic or severe cases, this surgery involves removing part of the thickened tendon sheath to prevent the finger from getting stuck.

Recovery from trigger finger can vary depending on the treatment method used and the individual patient. Non-surgical treatments may provide relief within weeks, but surgery might require a longer recovery period and physical therapy to regain full motion and strength in the finger. It is important for patients to follow their healthcare provider’s advice on treatment and rehabilitation to ensure the best possible outcome.3

Final Thoughts: Understanding VA Benefits for Trigger Finger

So, can you get a disability for trigger finger as a veteran? Yes, it's possible if the condition is service-connected and adequately documented. If you believe your trigger finger is related to your military service, it is important to seek medical evaluation and consult with the VA for potential benefits. Remember, every veteran's situation is unique, so benefits are determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specifics of each individual's service and health condition.

Are you a reservist dealing with service-related health issues? Read this guide to discover your eligibility for VA disability benefits and understand how to navigate the claims process.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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