Trigger finger affects the flexor tendons in the palm of your hand. They're responsible for making your fingers and thumbs open and close.
Flexor tendons are tough, string-like structures that attach bones in finger joints at one end and forearm muscles at the other. They're enclosed in a fluid-filled sheath that helps the tendons to glide smoothly. These sheaths are attached to the inside of the finger and thumb joints with small loops or pullies.
When the muscle contracts it pulls the tendon and the joint moves.
In trigger finger, the tendon becomes inflamed or thickened and can’t pass easily through the sheath. This makes it hard to move the affected finger or thumb.
Sometimes the tendon bunches into a small, lumpy knot. This lump catches on the pullies when you try to bend and straighten your finger — it's often painful and can make a clicking sound. Sometimes the tendon can’t go through the pully and your finger is stuck in a bent position.
Trigger finger most often affects the thumb (trigger thumb), ring finger or little finger. Although it can affect any finger. It can also affect one or more fingers at a time and one or both hands. You’re more likely to get it in the hand you use most — as most people are right-handed, trigger finger is, therefore, more common in the right hand.
Trigger finger symptoms include:
Symptoms may be worse when you firmly grasp an object or straighten your finger.
Your doctor can diagnose trigger finger through a physical examination and your medical history — no tests will be needed. They will ask you to open and close your hand, and will examine your hand for:
What your doctor will need to know
When you see your GP, bring a list of the medications and supplements you regularly take. Your GP may ask you a series of questions about your symptoms including:
They may also ask if you perform repetitive tasks for your work or hobbies and if you have recently had a hand injury.
It is not known exactly what causes trigger finger, but it’s more common:
It can often be caused if you put prolonged pressure on the palm of your hand, such as using a screwdriver.
Trigger finger is less common in children than adults but it does sometimes occur in children aged six months to three years. It can affect their ability to straighten their thumb but it usually goes away without treatment. It is not usually painful.
If treatment is needed, this usually involves splinting and/or hand stretches.
In some cases, trigger finger doesn't need treatment and will get better by itself.
However, if it doesn’t improve, treatment is needed otherwise the finger or thumb may become permanently bent.
Treatment options include:
Using a splint can help some people but there are other more effective treatments, such as medications and surgery.
If physical treatments and medications are not effective or are unsuitable, your doctor may recommend trigger finger surgery. This involves releasing the trapped tendon by cutting through the affected part of the sheath surrounding it.
Before recommending surgery, your doctor will consider factors including:
Percutaneous release surgery
Percutaneous means 'through the skin'. This procedure involves your surgeon numbing the palm of your hand and then inserting a needle through your skin into the tissue around your affected tendon. Moving the needle and your finger will break up any tissue constricted around your tendon so it can move freely.
Open trigger finger release surgery
An injection of local anaesthetic will be given into the palm of your hand to numb it. Your surgeon will make a small cut into your palm along a natural crease — this will make the scar less obvious. Next, they will cut through the tendon sheath to make it wider so your tendon can move freely. The cut will be closed, stitched and covered with a bandage.
What is the best way to treat trigger finger?
Trigger finger can get better on its own but if treatment is needed, there are several options depending on the severity of your trigger finger. Rest, stretching exercises and splinting work for some people. However, other more effective treatments include steroid injections and surgery.
What will happen if a trigger finger is not treated?
Left untreated, trigger finger can get better on its own. However, in some cases, the affected finger can become permanently bent, which can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
Can trigger finger heal on its own?
Yes, trigger finger can get better on its own, particularly in children (although children are less likely than adults to develop this condition).
What causes a trigger finger?
The exact cause of trigger finger isn’t known although it is more common in women and people aged over 40. Other risk factors include having carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, Dupuytren's contracture or rheumatoid arthritis. Lifestyle factors can also increase your risk, specifically work or hobbies that involve repeated gripping.
Is trigger finger a sign of arthritis?
People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop trigger finger, however, trigger finger is not considered a sign of arthritis — there are other more common symptoms of arthritis.