Trigger Finger: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

Learn about trigger finger and what can cause it, plus exercise tips for relief recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
person-touching-her-hands-worried

Trigger Finger: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

Learn about trigger finger and what can cause it, plus exercise tips for relief recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
person-touching-her-hands-worried

Trigger Finger: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

Learn about trigger finger and what can cause it, plus exercise tips for relief recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
person-touching-her-hands-worried

Trigger Finger: Signs You Have It and Exercises for Relief

Learn about trigger finger and what can cause it, plus exercise tips for relief recommended by physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
person-touching-her-hands-worried
Table of Contents

Trigger finger, also called stenosing tenosynovitis, is one of the most common causes of hand pain in adults. It can make activities like brushing your teeth, buttoning clothes, grabbing objects, opening jars, and texting difficult. Along with pain, trigger finger can impede your ability to bend and extend your fingers or thumb. 

“Pretty much everything we do requires fine movement with our hands,” says Madison Nyikes, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. So when you’re dealing with trigger finger, you’ll notice just how much it can interfere with basic hand function and disrupt your daily life. 

“As alarming as it can be for your finger to seemingly become stuck and not be able to move on its own, trigger finger can often be managed with exercise, stretching, and assistive therapies like heat and cold,” Dr. Nyikes says. “You have control over this. And because your hands are so important to how you perform daily tasks, early treatment is essential to avoid worsening symptoms.” 

Read on to learn more about what causes trigger finger and how to treat it, including exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Madison Nyikes, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Nyikes is a Hinge Health Physical Therapist with special interests in chronic pain disorders, neurologic conditions, and musculoskeletal research.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Trigger Finger?

Trigger finger is a condition that results in your finger or thumb getting stuck in a curled position toward the palm of your hand like it’s trying to pull a trigger. “When the finger or thumb gets stuck in a bent position like this, it can require an outside force to fully extend it again,” says Dr. Nyikes. 

Trigger finger happens when a tendon in the palm becomes inflamed. Tendons normally glide smoothly through protective sheaths, but when swelling and irritation occur, the tendon can catch or become stuck. This can lead to pain and limit mobility. Trigger finger can happen in any finger and sometimes even in multiple fingers.

Trigger Finger Symptoms

People often notice soreness, stiffness, or pain in their finger or thumb before it starts to lock. Here are some of the most common symptoms you may notice, though not everyone will experience all of them. 

  • Stiffness

  • Dull ache or pain when moving the finger or thumb

  • Soreness in the palm at the base of the affected finger or thumb

  • Popping or clicking sensation

  • Swelling and warmth

  • Tenderness or a bump, usually in the palm

  • Finger locking that may require the use of your other hand to straighten

  • Finger fixed in a position

  • Symptoms often worse in the morning

Common Causes of Trigger Finger

The exact causes of trigger finger aren’t yet known, but several contributing factors can play a role. 

Repetitive activity. Using your hands a lot, like typing, playing an instrument, or gripping, can lead to irritation of the hand tendons.

Medical conditions. People with conditions that involve inflammation, like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, are at greater risk of developing trigger finger. A recent study in the journal PLOS ONE found an association between high cholesterol and trigger finger. 

Gender. Women are more likely to experience trigger finger.

Age. Trigger finger is more common in people over age 40.

While you may not be able to change some of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to get trigger finger, or if you do, that you’ll have to deal with it forever. You can do a lot to manage the symptoms, treat the problem, and prevent reinjury.

Treatment Options for Trigger Finger

The goal of treatment is to ease the inflammation and re-teach the tendon to move appropriately,” says Dr. Nyikes. Exercise therapy, like the trigger finger exercises below, are reminders for the hands and fingers of normal movement patterns.

In addition to exercise therapy, here are other trigger finger treatments.

Ice and heat. Ice can help reduce inflammation at the first signs of pain or stiffness. However, by the time the finger starts to lock or catch, heat may be more helpful in enabling smoother movement.

Contrast baths. This therapy alternates submerging your hand in warm and cold water. Dr. Nyikes recommends starting with one minute in each, alternating back and forth four times. Then gradually increase to two minutes in each, repeating eight times. Research in the Journal of Athletic Training found that contrast baths can increase blood flow and reduce swelling to promote healing.

Night splinting. Using a brace or ACE bandage, “splinting at night keeps the fingers straight so they don’t lock into place for six to eight hours,” says Dr. Nyikes. You can also apply heat or do a contrast bath before bed to warm the tissue and prepare it to stay loose.

Stretching. Anytime you notice your fingers starting to go into a bent position, gently straighten and stretch them out. Do this in addition to the stretches below.

Injections. Sometimes, strong anti-inflammatory medication like steroids are needed to decrease inflammation and allow the finger to straighten. Talk to your doctor about whether you’re a good candidate for this.

Exercises for Trigger Finger Relief

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Hand Tendon Glides
  • Finger Extensions
  • Finger Abduction
  • Isometric Finger Abduction
  • Wrist Flexor Stretch
  • Double Wrist Flexor Stretch

These exercises are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists to support healing from trigger finger and generally help keep your fingers, hands, and wrists strong and flexible. Exercises like these strengthen, stretch, and improve mobility in the hand tendons to ease trigger finger pain and encourage and enable your fingers and thumbs to straighten.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Keep Your Hand Open

Exercises, like the ones above, help to retrain your fingers and thumb to open up, but what you do when you’re not exercising your hands is important, too. During a busy day, you might not notice your finger or thumb bending inward until it starts hurting. Allowing your finger or thumb to remain in a bent position for extended periods of time can make the condition worse. To prevent this from happening, “rest your hand on something like your desk so it doesn’t curl up into a fist,” says Dr. Nyikes. “I've even taught people to rest their hand in a semi-open position like on a cup or coffee mug.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Blazar, P.E., & Aggarwal, R. (2022, May 6). Trigger finger (stenosing flexor tenosynovitis). UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/trigger-finger-stenosing-flexor-tenosynovitis   

  2. How do hands work? (2018, July 26). InformedHealth.org. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279362/ 

  3. Jeanmonod, R., Harberger, S., & Waseem, M. (2023, July 17). Trigger Finger. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459310/ 

  4. Chen, P.-T., Zhang, H.-W., Tsai, Z.-R., Peng, H.-C., Lin, Y., Jeffrey, & Lin, C.-W. (2023). Association between hyperlipidemia and trigger finger: A nationwide population-based cohort study. PLOS ONE, 18(7), e0288426. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0288426

  5. Shadgan, B., Pakravan, A. H., Hoens, A., & Reid, W. D. (2018). Contrast Baths, Intramuscular Hemodynamics, and Oxygenation as Monitored by Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Journal of Athletic Training, 53(8), 782–787. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-127-17