Trigger finger

Also known as trigger digit or stenosing tenosynovitis

Trigger finger is a common problem resulting in pain or reduced movement of a finger that tends to catch, snap or lock. It can be hard to bend (flex) or fully straighten (extend) the finger.

The label of trigger finger is used because when the finger unlocks, it pops back suddenly, as if releasing a trigger on a gun. The cause is not totally clear. It can be more common in people with diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Symptoms 

Symptoms may include a lump appearing in your palm, pain, catching or popping on bending or straightening your finger. The triggering may be more obvious at night and in the morning, or while gripping an object firmly.

Diagnosis

This can usually be made by history and physical examination by a doctor. More than one finger may be affected at a time, though it usually affects the index, thumb, middle, or ring finger. 

Video from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Treatment

In some cases, one or more of the following is all that is needed:

  • rest
  • avoiding activities that aggravate the pain
  • pain relief
  • anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs
  • use of a splint to keep the finger in a neutral, resting position.

In other cases, steroid injections or surgery are needed.

Decision Aid

Option grids are a useful table showing the pros and cons of different treatment options for commonly asked questions. 

  • View the trigger finger option grid from the Option Grid Collaborative, led by The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science.


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Resources

Trigger finger factsheet American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Trigger finger leaflet Patient.co.uk

Learn more

Trigger finger overview NHS Choices, UK
Trigger finger American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Trigger finger information American Society for Surgery of the Hand