Trigger finger (also called stenosing tenosynovitis) is a condition where it’s hard to fully bend or straighten one or more of your fingers. When a finger gets stuck in the bent position, it can look like your hand is holding down a trigger — and that’s where this condition gets its name. Trigger finger most commonly affects the ring finger. When it affects the thumb, it’s called trigger thumb.
Trigger finger affects about two in 100 people in the United States. Anyone can get trigger finger, but it’s more common in women and older adults. The good news is that treatments can relieve pain from trigger finger and restore your range of motion. Learn more about trigger finger and how to cure it.
What Are the Symptoms of Trigger Finger and Trigger Thumb?
Symptoms of trigger finger can vary from person to person, and you may have problems in one or more fingers on one or both hands. Common symptoms of trigger finger include:
- Pain, stiffness or a popping or snapping sensation when you bend your finger
- Fingers that get stuck or locked in a bent position — or that you can’t fully straighten
- A swollen or lumpy area on the palm of your hand
- Soreness in your palm or at the base of the affected fingers that gets worse when you try to grip something
When fingers get stuck in the bent position, you may find that you need to use your other hand to straighten them out again. For most people, symptoms tend to be worse in the morning and improve as you gently move and use your hands throughout the day.
If you have symptoms of trigger finger, see your doctor right away. You don’t need any tests to get a diagnosis — your doctor can check for trigger finger with a simple physical exam of your hands and by talking with you about your symptoms.
What Causes Trigger Finger? Am I at Risk?
When you move your fingers, you’re using tendons that connect the bones of each finger to the muscles in your forearms. Each tendon moves inside a sheath of tissue that lets it slide back and forth easily as you bend and straighten your fingers.
When the tendons or sheaths get irritated, they swell up — and this swelling stops the tendons from sliding easily within their sheaths. Over time, this irritation can cause scarring and form nodules (bumps) along the tendon. This makes it even harder for the fingers to move freely and leads to the popping or snapping sensations of trigger finger.
In most cases, it’s not clear what causes the irritation. But you’re at higher risk for trigger finger if you:
- Have arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes
- Had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome
- Have spent a lot of time doing activities that involve repetitive gripping motions with your hands — like playing a musical instrument
How to Cure Trigger Finger: Treatments and Therapies
Treatments for trigger finger aim to reduce the irritation and pain around your tendons and restore the range of motion in your fingers. Doctors often recommend trying non-surgical treatments first, and trying surgery only if other treatments don’t work. Learn about the five main treatments for trigger finger:
Giving your hands a break from activities that can put stress on your tendons can sometimes help to ease symptoms. If your work involves repeated gripping motions, your doctor may recommend taking some time off to let your hands recover.
Your doctor may recommend attaching a splint to the affected finger or taping two fingers together. Both of these methods keep the affected finger extended and allow the irritated tendon to rest and heal. If splinting interferes with your daily activities, you can wear the splint only at night.
Gentle finger exercises can help with stiffness and make it easier to extend and bend your fingers without pain. Your doctor can recommend particular stretches and tell you how often to do them. They may also refer you to a specialist called a physical therapist for help with stretching and hand exercises.
4. NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories)
NSAIDs are medicines that work to reduce inflammation — including the irritation and swelling around tendons from trigger finger. These medicines are available over-the-counter. But before taking NSAIDs, talk with your doctor about your medical history to make sure these medicines are safe for you.
4. Steroid Injections
If rest, splints, stretches and NSAIDs don’t work, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection. Your doctor can give you a shot of steroid medicine into the tendon sheath. Steroids can help reduce inflammation and allow the tendon to move back and forth more easily. In some cases, a single steroid injection is all you need. In other cases, you may need repeated injections to resolve your symptoms.
5. Surgery for Trigger Finger
If other treatment options don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are two different procedures that can be effective for trigger finger:
- In percutaneous (through the skin) release surgery, the doctor will numb the palm of your hand and use a needle to gently break up the scar tissue blocking the movement of your tendon. You can get this procedure at your doctor’s office.
- In open trigger finger surgery, the doctor will numb your hand and make a small cut at the base of the finger. Then they’ll cut the tendon sheath to help the tendon move freely. You’ll get this procedure in an operating room.
After surgery for trigger finger, it usually takes about two to three weeks to recover, and you may have some swelling in your hand for several months. Your hand will be sore after surgery, but you’ll need to start gently moving your fingers right away to help them heal. Most people have less pain and a better range of motion in their fingers after surgery.
If your trigger finger symptoms were caused by repetitive motions, they may come back when you start doing those activities again. Talk with your doctor right away if you notice symptoms of trigger finger. Together, you can make a plan to treat your symptoms and get your hands moving freely again.