Trigger finger

Your health expert: Professor Adam Watts, Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon
Content editor review by: Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, September 2023
Next review due September 2026

Trigger finger (stenosing tendinopathy) is a condition where your finger or thumb ‘catches’ or locks in place when you bend it. Sometimes trigger finger can recover by itself after a few weeks. If not, there are treatments that can help, which include painkillers, splinting, steroid injections and surgery.

We’ll use the term ‘trigger finger’ here, but our information also covers trigger 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. The tendons are long cords that attach your finger bones to 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, which are called pulleys.

If you have trigger finger, the tendon sheath thickens, which narrows the space for the tendon and it can’t run through the tunnel smoothly. This can make the fibres of the tendon swell and form a small lump (nodule). This nodule then catches on a pulley in the tendon sheath as you move your finger. If the problem gets worse, your finger can sometimes get stuck (locked) in a bent position.

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

Causes of trigger finger

We don’t know what the trigger finger cause is but some things make you more likely to get it. It’s more common in women than men, for example. And while you can get trigger finger at any age, it’s most common in people in their 50s and 60s. Children are less likely to get it than adults but if they do, it usually affects their thumb. For more information, see our FAQ: Can children have trigger finger?

You may get trigger finger after you injure 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, such as using heavy shears.

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.

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.

Symptoms of trigger finger

Symptoms of trigger finger can include:

  • pain in your hand – it often begins as an ache in your palm when you move the affected finger
  • 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
  • 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 or if you haven’t moved your hand in a while

The symptoms tend to develop over weeks and months but can progress more quickly. 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.

Diagnosis of trigger finger

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. They’ll ask if there’s anything that could have set off your symptoms, such as 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 any catching of your tendon. Tell your GP if your hand is painful so they know to be gentle when they examine 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


Sometimes, trigger finger gets better without any treatment. Your doctor may advise you to rest your hand and 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 one of the trigger finger treatments below.

Splinting and pain relief

Your GP may suggest a combination of a trigger finger splint and pain relief for four to six weeks to see if this helps. They may recommend you see a physiotherapist.

You wear the splint on your finger or thumb at night to keep it straight and stop it moving. This will help smooth the thickened part of your tendon by preventing it from rubbing on 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 a 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 these. If you don’t want 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 months. 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.


If other treatments don’t work, your doctor may offer you trigger finger surgery. The operation is called ‘trigger release’ surgery. Trigger finger 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 trigger finger surgery for you.

In trigger release surgery, your surgeon will cut the part of the tendon sheath that’s blocking movement. This lets your finger move normally again, and eases any pain. There are two main ways of doing this.

  • Open trigger release surgery. Your surgeon will make 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 will put a needle through the skin of your palm to reach and cut the tendon sheath. This procedure isn’t suitable for everyone.

Your doctor will give you more details about these procedures and what’s involved. Both procedures are usually done as day-cases, which means you won’t need to stay in hospital overnight. You’ll have 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.

There’s a low risk of ongoing trigger finger symptoms, or them coming back after surgery.

Looking for physiotherapy?

You can access a range of treatments on a pay as you go basis, including physiotherapy.

To book or to make an enquiry, call us on 0370 218 6528

Yes, children can have trigger finger but it usually affects their thumb (trigger thumb). You’ll usually notice trigger thumb in your child when they’re between one and four. One or both of your child’s thumbs may always be bent. Trigger thumb isn’t usually painful in children, and for most, trigger thumb gets better without treatment. But some children may need surgery.

Trigger finger can heal on its own but it depends on how severe your symptoms are. If you have mild symptoms, they may go away on their own, particularly if you stop doing activities that might have caused it. But sometimes trigger finger symptoms can get worse and start to interfere with life. The pain may become severe, and your finger may become stuck in a bent position. You’ll then need treatment.

See our treatment of trigger finger section for more information.

The best way to fix trigger finger will depend on how severe it is and what’s likely to have led you to develop it. Mild trigger finger sometimes gets better without any treatment. If your trigger finger doesn’t go away, you may need a trigger finger treatment, which can include a trigger finger splint, a steroid  injection, or surgery.

See our treatment of trigger finger section for more information.

The exact cause of trigger finger isn’t known but some things make you more likely to get it. You may get trigger finger after you injure your hand, for example. Or it might happen through repeated, powerful hand movements. Trigger finger is also more common in people with certain health conditions, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis .

See our causes of trigger finger section for more information.

No, trigger finger isn’t a form of arthritis. But if you have a form of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis , it may increase your risk of getting it. Children with trigger thumb are sometimes found to have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

See our causes of trigger finger section for more information.

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