Trigger finger, also known as “stenosing tenosynovitis” (let’s go ahead and stick with “trigger finger”) is a condition that causes your finger to become “stuck” in a bent position. When forced to straighten, the appendage snaps into the new position rather than transitioning smoothly (like the trigger on a pistol).
Trigger finger is common in individuals whose jobs or recreational activities include a lot of gripping and repetitive fingerwork, and is caused by inflammation and swelling of the sheath that protects the tendons in your fingers.
Many disorders of the fingers are found in the toes, and vice versa. So, is there such a thing as trigger toe?
Can You Get Trigger Finger in Your Toes?
Short answer, yes!
That said, trigger toe is a relatively uncommon foot condition that typically affects only a small subset of people: mainly dancers who perform en pointe. Dancing en pointe puts pressure on the big toe, which can irritate and inflame the sheath protecting the tendon in the big toe.
What Causes Trigger Toe?
The tendon that ends in the big toe, the flexor hallucis longus, moves in and out through the calf and down the foot as you flex and move your feet and legs. Typically, this motion is smooth and seamless. However, through overuse and excessive strain (such as by placing the weight of the body on the toes constantly during dance), the sheath that houses this tendon can become tender, inflamed, and swollen.
When the tendon sheath swells, it becomes more difficult for the tendon to slide through smoothly, resulting in lockups and jerky transitions–or trigger-toe. Left untreated, trigger toe can cause damage and scarring to the FHL tendon.
Symptoms of Trigger Toe
While the symptoms of trigger toe are typically mild in the beginning, it’s important not to ignore them. Left untreated, trigger toe can cause permanent and irreversible damage. In the case of a professional dancer, this can mean the end of a career.
The first symptoms of trigger toe include mid discomfort in the big toe and brief lockups that easily release. However, as the condition worsens, it may become very difficult to dance en pointe, because of the sharp pain in the toe. Lockups will become worse as well, requiring a dancer to manually bend or straighten the toe that has become locked.
You may also notice stiffness in the big toe, especially in the morning, tenderness in the toe and foot, or a “clicking” sound as the toe locks in and out of different positions. Trigger toe can affect one or both big toes.
Treating and Preventing Trigger Toe
While the general population will likely never experience trigger toe, dancers and some athletes should stay vigilant to symptoms that could signify the condition and consult a doctor as soon as symptoms present themselves.
Allowing your feet proper rest during and between dance sessions, properly warming up the toes, feet, ankles, and calves with stretches before and after a workout, and icing can help keep your toes and feet healthy. NSAIDs can also be used to reduce swelling and inflammation. In very severe cases, your doctor may perform a surgery to release the FHL tendon.
While trigger toe is relatively uncommon, it’s very important to treat symptoms quickly if they arise–particularly if you are a dancer or athlete. Taking action to address the underlying problem and rest your toes properly will help avoid long-term damage and early retirement from a hobby or career you love.