Trigger finger 


Trigger finger illustration

  1. Inflamed tendon
  2. Carpal ligament
  3. Normal tendon

Trigger finger is a condition that affects the tendons in the hand. When the affected finger or thumb is bent towards the palm, the tendon gets stuck and the finger clicks or locks.

It's also known as stenosing tenosynovitis or stenosing tenovaginosis.

Trigger finger can affect one or more fingers. The symptoms can include pain, stiffness, clicking and a small lump in the palm at the base of the affected finger or thumb (known as a nodule).

You should make an appointment to see your GP if you think you may have trigger finger, so they can examine your hand and offer advice about treatments.

Read more about the symptoms of trigger finger.

What causes trigger finger?

Tendons are fibrous cords that join bone to muscle. They allow the bone to move when the muscle contracts. In the hand, tendons run along the front and back of the bones in the fingers and are attached to the muscles in the forearm.

The tendons on the palm side of the hand (flexor tendons) are held in place by strong bands of tissue, known as ligaments, which are shaped in arches over the tendon. These ligaments form a tunnel on the surface of the bone, which the tendons slide through. This tunnel is known as a tendon sheath.

Trigger finger occurs if there is a problem with the tendon or sheath, such as swelling, which means the tendon can no longer slide easily through the sheath and it can become bunched up to form the nodule. This makes it harder to bend the affected finger or thumb. If the tendon gets caught in the opening of the sheath, the finger can click painfully as it is straightened.

The exact reason why these problems develop is not known, but several things may increase the likelihood of trigger finger developing. For example, it is more common in women, people who are over 40 years of age, and people with certain medical conditions.

Conditions that can increase your risk of trigger finger include conditions that affect the hand, such as Dupuytren’s contracture. They may also include some long-term conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Read more about the causes of trigger finger.

How trigger finger is treated

In some people, trigger finger may get better without treatment.

However, there is a chance that the affected finger or thumb could become permanently bent if not treated, which will make performing everyday tasks difficult.

If treatment is necessary, several different options are available, including:

  • Rest and medication – avoiding certain activities and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help relieve pain.
  • Splinting – this involves strapping the affected finger to a plastic splint to help ease your symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid injections – steroids are medicines that may be used to reduce swelling.
  • Surgery on the affected sheath – surgery involves releasing the affected sheath to allow the tendon to move freely again. This is a relatively minor procedure generally used when other treatments have failed. It can be up to 100% effective, although you may need to take two to four weeks off work to fully recover.

Read more about treating trigger finger.

Page last reviewed: 29/11/2013

Next review due: 29/11/2015


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The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

tizziek said on 11 April 2013

I thought I had arthritis but x-ray and blood tests were clear. Worse after a night's rest, my middle finger joints feel "rusty" if I try to curl my hand closed, and then the finger suddenly "flicks" right in with some discomfort. Also feels strained when I stretch my hands. Similar but lesser feeling in thumbs. I feel some tenderness and a slight lump at the base of the fingers affected, but they are not curled in and I have less of a problem straightening the fingers. I don't know if this is trigger finger or not - does anyone else experience this?

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Kerri222 said on 03 April 2013

Oddly enough I also came off HRT around 6 months ago & I too have recently developed trigger finger although I do not have any other aches & pains.

I wonder if there is a link or is this some kind of coincidence?

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judica said on 09 March 2013

I have developed this in the last week, useful to find this information. It is acute on one hand that I use a lot and has started after intense cleaning and gardening and driving for 16 hours in two journeys last week. The worry is that the fingers on the other hand also hurt a lot but haven't seized. I've never had anything like this before but my arm, shoulders and toes have been aching for months and it all feels related. I came off HRT last October so have been having all those menopausal symptoms again and wondered if this could be related as well.
oh well, off to the bewildered doctor yet again....!

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jghb said on 13 December 2011

It seems to me that if the the tendon is catching and then releasing the problem is more likely to be with the tendon itself than with the sheath. In my case (trigger thumb) I believe I got his condition through wheeling a wheelbarrow which was too heavy for me, which may have caused some swelling or flattening of the tendon.

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BlueBlood96 said on 04 August 2011

I was born with trigger thumb. My sister was born with two trigger thumbs. My brother was born with trigger thumb. Me and my brother had trigger thumb on/in our left thumb. My dad had carpal tunnel and these two things are apparently linked.

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Wheezy said on 01 June 2011

I have had six trigger fingers over the last ten years and had to have operations on all of them and all have been successful,I am now waiting to have another done,why am I getting so many? is it just to do with my type two diabetes?

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Daisy London said on 02 December 2010

I'm a type one diabetic with 4 triggers. The first one I ignored for too long thinking it would pass. Trigger caused by lifting injury. It got so bad that even after injections it would not open. The left middle finger was operated on Dec '08. It took 5 months of vigorous fysio to open, not a month as promised. And I lost my job.

Dec '09 my right hand (dominant) thumb got inflamed and sticky, a trigger too. It was painful and swollen and doctors said they had to operate, there was no other way or it would at best remain the same but most likely get worse.

I didn't fancy becoming disabled. The prognosis after surgery was "no guarantees" and that it could get worse. But I went back to Bowen Technique - the Bowen therapists had been able to help me when I got chronic RSI from Photoshop retouching.The Bowen therapist told me she managed her sister's (type 1 diabetic) trigger fingers and had not realised there is not supposed to be fysio that works for this.

I didn't expect much, just some pain relief. Amazing thing happened only hours after the first treatment - the swelling went down, the pain was hardly there and the thumb had more mobility! I went back about 4 times and it got better every time.

Now Dec ‘10 my thumb is slowly gaining movement, inflammation and pain were gone by the end of the Bowen treatment. I use 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water twice a day to keep inflammation down and it works much better than the indigestible anti-inflammatories.

I've hand my right index and ring finger and left index triggering. But I go to Bowen and take the vinegar and they settle. The sooner it's treated the less severe it becomes - caught early recovers faster. I have also learned to avoid the movements that clearly cause triggers. Doctor's saying otherwise is again just lack of up-to-date research.

The NHS surgical team has asked for a presentation from my Bowen therapist, so fingers crossed they could work together.

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spotmax said on 20 October 2010

I got my knuckle trapped, then developed trigger finger, not conclusive, but im sure im not alone.

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healthtopix said on 16 July 2009

I completely disagree with the assertion made on this page that 'trigger finger' is not work related.

"Contrary to popular opinion there is no good evidence that it's more common in people who use their hands repetitively or who grip excessively, i.e. it's not work related"

This baseless assertion qualifies as misinformation. Either the fingers are used or they are not. Is there any evidence at all that 'Trigger Finger' would spontaneously occur in a hand which is never used? It is patently ridiculous to suggest that the movements a hand makes for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, have no relation to this condition.

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