What is Trigger Thumb and How to Prevent it

What is Trigger Thumb and How to Prevent it

If you’ve ever heard a popular movie talk about having an itchy trigger finger, well, you already know a bit about what trigger thumb is.

Trigger thumb normally specifically applies to archers since we’re constantly using high pressure bowstrings against our thumbs, but trigger finger, the overarching condition, can affect firearm users as well.

It’s a nasty bit of business, but if you know how to take care of it, you’re not going to see any long-term damage.

In this, we’re going to talk about how you end up with trigger thumb/finger in the first place, and a ton of ways on how to prevent it.

Keep in mind that as you age and you put in more time behind the bowstring, your chances of trigger thumb are going to increase.

That’s just something that’s unavoidable, but you can prolong its effects on your archery and overall quality of life.

Causes of Trigger Thumb

arrow finger hold

Picture your hands similar to the construction of a compound bow: there are pulleys that let everything move, and without them, you would be locked up, unable to go anywhere.

That’s the jist of it. The tendons in your hands are connected to your bones, and they act like pulley systems that allow your brain signals to accurately dictate muscle adjustments and bone shifting.

When these get irritated, that’s when you run into problems.

Consider that you’re holding them tightly for 10-25 seconds at a time, at the very least, while your bow is fully drawn back. It’s going to take its toll on your joints after a while.

Repeated actions that bring on this severe level of irritation cause full-blown trigger finger, or trigger thumb.

Archery would be included in that category, as well as mundane tasks at work that require you to use your hands.

Doing the same thing over and over again is indicative of encountering some form of joint problems later on in life.

For example, those who type a lot end up with carpal tunnel, and the same logic can be applied here.

You Are At Risk of Trigger Thumb from These Medical Conditions

Unfortunately, there are three major diseases that severely impact your viability as an archer.

These will provide difficulties for you to overcome throughout your entire archery career.

The best thing you can do is follow through with medical recommendations from your healthcare professional to mitigate disruptions to your archery.

  • Diabetes: Diabetes is associated with PAD, which stands for peripheral artery disease. Blood vessels that carry blood to your extremities narrow, and from there, amputation becomes an increasing (sometimes daily) risk for diabetics. The blood vessel constriction is obviously a concern since you’re tightening the muscles in your hands and wrist, and constricting blood flow in the process.
  • Gout: Gout is similar to rheumatoid in the way that it affects the joints. It causes inflammation, but through different means. Purines are in a lot of food we eat in modern society, which produce uric acid. For some, the breakdown of uric acid simply doesn’t happen. The result is painful, inflamed joints, and eventual kidney failure.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid affects your joints and causes massive inflammation across your entire body. It’s an autoimmune disease, so it’s constantly fighting the chemicals in your body that helps prevent inflammation when it’s not warranted. You’ll also note that arthritis in general affects joints, and that’s surely going to be a problem while shooting your bow. You can take anti-inflammatory medication prior to shooting your bow to help reduce your risks.

Symptoms of Trigger Thumb

trigger finger symptoms

Symptoms include, but are not limited to the following.

Special cases may be strictly labeled as stenosing tenosynovitis, and require surgery to fix.

  • Stiffness: Your finger is rigid and still to the point that you cannot move it. This causes you discomfort, and it’s hard to forget that it’s happening.
  • Popping: If your finger pops or cracks when you move it, and you notice a small amount of resistance, this could be a symptom.
  • Swelling: A swollen base of your thumb is indicative of a problem. You can feel the base of your thumb (where it connects to your hand) is partially swollen and causing discomfort.
  • Bent Locking: If you cannot move it from a bent position, such as in the position to hold and release a bowstring, then you might have trigger thumb. Moving it causes immense pain and doesn’t budge the joint at all
  • Tenderness: Tenderness at the base of the joint that doesn’t dissipate in 48 hours is a serious concern. You may notice pain/discomfort rising from this point.

The joints lock up, and everything else feels painful.

You can usually feel the effects of trigger thumb if you move your other fingers, such as your index, and it is affecting the joint of your thumb.

Do not immediately assume symptoms mean you are about to have trigger finger; wait until problems persist for a short period of time before jumping to conclusions.

Finger Thumb Prevention Methods

relese bow

Trigger thumb/finger is serious, and it can lead to surgery if you neglect to address the tension you’re feeling.

To prevent actually crossing over into trigger thumb territory, try these preventative methods.

  • Use a Bow Release: Perhaps the best thing you can do is this. When you hold a bow release, you’re using the palm of your hand and all of your fingers to hold the handle in place. That’s evenly distributed tension; it’s not just climbing across your thumb or index finger. This helps out from extended use, but does not 100% protect you from trigger thumb, it just drastically lowers the chance that you will get it.
  • Take a Break: Been shooting every weekend for years? Well, it may be time to skip a weekend. You’ll also need to pay attention to the tasks that you perform at home, so you can try to take it easy on your trigger hand. If you’re working in an environment that requires a lot of hand movement, you can move on to the next method.
  • Thumb Splint: It wraps around your wrist and goes up your thumb. Even if you’re not in recovery mode from actual trigger thumb, this is a way to prevent it. If your boss or coworkers ask, mention that you do archery and sometimes your thumb gets damaged. People don’t wear casts/splints to work because they don’t want to work (they would just not show up instead). Don’t be ashamed to wear a splint if it means avoiding full-blown trigger thumb.

Can You Get Trigger Thumb from Crossbow Use?

You can get trigger finger, but your thumb usually isn’t where most of the tension is resting when you use a crossbow.

If you’ve ever fired a crossbow, you know that most triggers have a fair amount of resistance, and require a good squeeze to actually release the shot.

That’s good for safety, but bad for your joints.

It’s a lot of tension, and if you’re regularly using your crossbow, then it can absolutely lead to trigger finger.

It’s important to stay wary of any pain, inflammation, stiffness or soreness that you may feel during or after crossbow usage.

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, it may be difficult to separate the differences in pain.

Trigger thumb pain will usually power through a couple of Advil though, so that’s one way to tell.

All About Trigger Thumb Surgery

finger surgery

It’s the last thing anyone wants to think about, but going under the knife to fix it might be your best option.

Surgery is the last option that doctors want to approach, but under extreme circumstances, it may be your best option.

Surgery is usually chosen if the trigger thumb sufferer is a diabetic, if pain is spreading from your thumb through your forearm from tendon rupturing, the pain is increasing even after you’ve rested your hand, and if you are suffering from the inability to perform simple daily household tasks.

Non-surgical methods are still preferred, as the recovery can be pretty brutal.

Recovery may include seeing a physical therapist for an unspecified amount of time, avoiding sports, and not performing archery for 3-4 weeks (due to the high tension).

You should be able to drive and perform simple tasks after a full week of recovery.

Cure Trigger Thumb Easily

Using these preventative measures, you should hopefully be able to evade surgery and remedy the situation before it ever starts.

Archery does increase your risk of trigger thumb, but that shouldn’t be enough of a reason to stop you.

At the very least, using a bow release will allow you to continue shooting your arrows even when you’re suffering from trigger thumb.

The worst part about it (aside from the pain) is fearing that you have to put your favorite hobby down; there are ways around it, you don’t have to stop doing what you love.

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