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Trigger finger

Expert reviewer, Dr Sundeept Bhalara, Consultant Rheumatologist, and Ade Adeniyi, Bupa Clinics GP
Next review due April 2024

Trigger finger is a condition in which your finger or thumb ‘catches’ or gets locked in place when you bend it. It’s not harmful, but it can be painful and a nuisance. Sometimes trigger finger recovers by itself after a few weeks. If not, there are treatments that can help. Treatments include painkillers, splinting, steroid injections and surgery.

We’ll use the term ‘trigger finger’ here, but our information also covers the thumb.


An image showing a hand with trigger finger

About trigger finger

Trigger finger happens because of a problem with a tendon in your finger. Tendons are long cords which attach your finger bones to the muscles in your forearms. They run through tunnels called tendon sheaths. These allow your tendon to move smoothly as you bend and straighten your fingers. The tendon sheath has bands of tissue to hold your tendon close to your finger bones. These are called pulleys.

If you have trigger finger, the tendon sheath narrows so the tendon can’t run through it smoothly. This can make the fibres of the tendon ‘bunch up’ and form a nodule (a small lump). This nodule then catches on a pulley in the tendon sheath as you move your finger. If the problem becomes severe, your finger can sometimes get stuck (locked) in a bent position.

The ring finger and thumb (‘trigger thumb’) are most often affected. But trigger finger can happen in any of your fingers. It’s not unusual to get it in more than one finger.

People of any age can get trigger finger but it’s most common in people in their 50s. Children are less likely to get it than adults. But if they do, it’s usually the thumb that’s affected. For more information about how trigger thumb affects children, see our FAQ: Can children have trigger finger?

Doctors aren’t sure yet why people get trigger finger. Some factors make it more likely to happen. For instance, women are more likely to get trigger finger than men. And people with certain medical conditions are more prone to it. You can find more information about this in our section on causes of trigger finger.

Symptoms of trigger finger

Symptoms of trigger finger can include the following:

  • a painful catching or popping sensation when you bend and straighten your finger
  • your finger getting stuck (locked) in a bent position – you may be able to pull it straight with your other hand
  • feeling a sore lump in your palm at the base of the affected finger
  • stiffness in your finger, which may be worse first thing in the morning

The symptoms tend to develop over weeks and months. You may also notice early signs of trigger finger in your other fingers on the same or on the other hand. Contact your GP if you get these symptoms.

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Diagnosis of trigger finger

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. They may ask if there’s anything that could have set off your symptoms. This might be an injury or repeated stress on your finger.

Your GP will examine your hand and the affected finger. They’ll feel your hand to see if there’s a tender nodule in your palm at the base of the finger. They may ask you to bend and straighten your fingers, while they feel the palm of your hand. This may let them feel the catching of your tendon. Tell your GP if your hand is painful so that they know to take care when examining it.

You won’t usually need to have any tests. But if your GP isn’t sure what’s causing your symptoms, they may recommend you have an ultrasound scan.

Treatment of trigger finger

Self-help

Sometimes, trigger finger gets better without any treatment. Your doctor may ask you to rest your hand. You should try not to do any activities that make it worse for a while. If you have mild symptoms, these may go away on their own within a few weeks.

If your trigger finger doesn’t go away, you may need treatment. Treatments include painkillers, splinting, steroid injections and surgery.

Splinting and pain relief

Your GP may suggest a combination of splinting and pain relief for four to six weeks to see if this helps. They may recommend you see a physiotherapist (a health professional who specialises in maintaining and improving movement and mobility).

You wear the splint on your finger or thumb at night to keep it straight and stop it moving. This helps smooth the roughened part of your tendon by keeping it inside the tendon sheath.

You can take over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to reduce pain and swelling in your finger. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist.

Steroid injection

Your GP or specialist doctor may offer you a steroid injection instead of splinting and painkillers or if splinting and painkillers don’t help. Or, you may have a steroid injection as well as splinting and painkillers.

If you choose not to have a steroid injection, your doctor may refer you to a hand therapist for further splinting.

If you have the injection, your doctor will inject a steroid medicine into the inflamed area of your tendon sheath. The steroid is mixed with a local anaesthetic medicine to lessen pain. Your symptoms may improve within a few days but it may take a week or two. If the first injection doesn't help or only partially works, your doctor may offer you another one.

Steroid injections don’t work for everyone with trigger finger. If your symptoms don’t go away after steroid injections, your doctor may offer you an operation.

Surgery

If other treatments don’t work, your doctor may offer you an operation to treat trigger finger. This is called ‘trigger release’ surgery. Surgery may be the best treatment for you if your finger is locked in a bent position. Ask your doctor to explain the risks and benefits of surgery for you.

In trigger release surgery, your surgeon cuts the part of the tendon sheath which is blocking movement. This lets your finger move normally again, as well as stopping any pain. There are two main ways of doing this procedure.

  • Open trigger release surgery. Your surgeon makes a small cut in the palm of your hand to reach the tendon sheath. You’ll have a small scar afterwards.
  • Percutaneous trigger release surgery. Your surgeon puts a needle through the skin of your palm to reach and cut the tendon sheath. This procedure isn’t suitable for everyone.

If you’re having one of these procedures, your doctor will tell you what’s involved. Both procedures are usually done as day-cases, which means you won’t need to stay in hospital overnight. You’ll be given a local anaesthetic so you won’t feel any pain, but you’ll be awake.

Your doctor will encourage you to move your finger right away after the surgery. You might get some swelling or soreness for a while. And your finger or thumb might feel a bit stiff at first. It can take several months for all the swelling and stiffness to go away.

Trigger finger doesn’t usually come back after surgery.

Causes of trigger finger

We don’t know for sure why some people get trigger finger. You’re more likely to get it if you’re a woman. And the most common age to get trigger finger is in your 50s.

Trigger finger may follow an injury to your hand. Or it might happen if your work or hobbies involve repeated, powerful hand movements. These include movements that put pressure on your palm or where you use a powerful grip. Examples include using heavy shears, secateurs, gym weights or screwdrivers.

Trigger finger is more common in people with certain health conditions, including:


You may get trigger finger at the same time as other problems with your hand and wrist – for example, carpal tunnel syndrome. For more information about other hand conditions, see our FAQs.

There isn’t much you can do to prevent trigger finger. But if you start having symptoms, take note of anything that seems to cause them. Then try and avoid those activities for a while.

Frequently asked questions

  • Trigger finger, Dupuytren’s contracture and carpal tunnel syndrome all affect your hand or fingers. It can be easy to confuse them, but they’re separate conditions caused by different things. And it’s possible to have more than one of them at the same time.

    • Trigger finger is a problem with a tendon in your finger, which makes your finger ‘catch’ or lock when you bend it.
    • Dupuytren’s contracture happens when ligaments in your palm get thicker and contract. Over time, this pulls one or more of your fingers into your palm.
    • In carpal tunnel syndrome, there is pressure on a nerve in your wrist. This leads to pain, numbness and tingling in your hand and fingers.

    Having diabetes is a risk factor for all three of these conditions.

  • Yes. Trigger finger is more common in adults but children can get it too. In children, it’s usually the thumb that’s affected. This is known as ‘trigger thumb’.

    Most parents of children with trigger thumb notice the problem between the ages of one and four. You may notice that one or both of your child’s thumbs is always bent. Trigger thumb isn’t usually painful in children.

    For most children, trigger thumb gets better without having any treatment. Some children may need surgery to stop their thumbs staying bent. Ask your doctor about the best treatment for your child.

  • This depends on how severe your symptoms are. Mild symptoms may go away on their own without any treatment. This is more likely if you stop doing activities which might have caused your trigger finger. But in time, your trigger finger symptoms may get worse and start to interfere with your day-to-day life. The pain may become severe, and your finger may become stuck in a bent position.

    It’s your choice whether or not to have any treatment for your trigger finger. You can find out about treatments for trigger finger in our treatment section. Talk to your doctor about available treatments and how they may be able to help you.



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Related information


  • Discover other helpful health information websites.
    • Tenosynovitis of the hand and wrist. BMJ Best practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last reviewed December 2020
    • Trigger finger. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated November 2019
    • Trigger finger. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. orthoinfo.aaos.org, last reviewed March 2018
    • Trigger finger/thumb. The British Society for Surgery of the Hand, BSSH. bssh.ac.uk, accessed January 2021
    • Dupuytren’s contracture. Patient. patient.info, last edited August 2016
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Patient. patient.info, last edited May 2019
    • Personal communication, Dr Sundeept Bhalara, Consultant Rheumatologist, February 2021

  • Reviewed by Dr Kristina Routh, Freelance Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, April 2021
    Expert reviewer, Dr Sundeept Bhalara, Consultant Rheumatologist, and Ade Adeniyi, Bupa Clinics GP
    Next review due April 2024

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