Trigger finger

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Trigger finger is when the tendons in your fingers become swollen or inflamed. This can lead to a catching or locking sensation when you bend your finger and it can be difficult to move it back. Learn more about the causes and treatments here.

What is trigger finger?

Trigger finger is a condition that can make it difficult to bend your finger or thumb. This happens as it causes the tendons (or the tunnel a tendon runs through) in your hand to become swollen and irritated, and ‘catch’ in the tendon tunnel. It can feel like a clicking or locking.

It can affect multiple fingers and may develop in both hands.

What are the symptoms of trigger finger?

Some of the most common symptoms of trigger finger are:

  • Pain at the base of your finger or thumb, especially when you press it

  • Stiffness

  • Clicking

If the condition worsens, your affected finger may become stuck for a while in certain positions and later pop back. In the worst case it may become permanently stuck.

If your finger gets stuck in a bent position, there are ways you can try and release or unlock it. Place your fingers in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 minutes. Slowly make a fist and try to spread your fingers apart. You can also stretch the fingers to try and prevent locking.

How common is trigger finger?

Trigger finger is more common in adults and women are much more likely to be affected by it – usually in their dominant hand.

How is trigger finger diagnosed?

To diagnose trigger finger, a healthcare professional will talk through your symptoms, look at your medical history and likely do a physical examination.

The doctor may try to move your hands in certain ways such as opening and closing the hand as they check for locking and how smooth the motion is.

What causes trigger finger?

Trigger finger happens when the tendons or tendon sheath (the tunnel the tendon runs in) becomes inflamed or swollen. The friction can prevent movement. Experts don’t fully understand what causes it to happen, but there are some risk factors that make it more likely to develop.

These include:

  • Diabetes

  • Alcoholism

  • Repetitive gripping

  • Being female – women are up to 6 times more likely to develop the condition

How is trigger finger treated?

There are several treatments available, including:

  • Splinting

Strapping the finger or thumb to a splint can relieve pain by stopping the finger moving and preventing locking. An overnight splint may help people that suffer from stiffness in the morning. You can buy a splint from most pharmacies.

  • Painkillers

For some people ibuprofen or other similar painkillers may help. Injections of painkillers called corticosteroids can also help, if a doctor recommends.

  • Surgery

This is usually the last method of treatment for people with trigger finger, to treat people whose fingers are permanently stuck. It’s a short operation that’s effective for the majority of people.

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you have symptoms of trigger finger, book an appointment to speak to a doctor and they can help.

If your finger joint shows signs of inflammation – going red, feel hot or swollen – see a doctor as soon as you can, as you may have an infection.

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor can talk to you about your symptoms and give you advice on the next best steps.

Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi