Children's Hospital Colorado

Trigger Finger/Thumb

What is a trigger finger/thumb?

A trigger finger or thumb happens when trying to bend or straighten the finger or thumb. It locks or catches and does not move freely. In children, it is often first seen when the child is older than 1 year of age.

What causes a trigger finger/thumb?

A trigger finger/thumb happens because the sheath (tunnel of tissue that the tendon moves through) isn't wide enough or gets swollen. The tendon can't glide smoothly and gets stuck. Over time, this may also cause a small bump to form at the base of the finger/thumb where it meets the palm of the hand. This usually isn't painful.

An artist's rendering of trigger thumb. The left side has a circle with a picture of a joint and tendon inside and the description below it says "The sheath is too tight causing a nodule (small bump) on the tendon. The dotted line shows where the sheath is cut, allowing the tendon to move freely." The right side is a picture of a hand with the bones and tendon shown inside the thumb and the description above it says "The thumb is unable to move freely due to the tendon not being able to move freely through the sheath."

What are the signs and symptoms of trigger finger?

  • A stiff finger that gets worse after activities
  • A clicking/popping sensation with movement of the joint
  • A bump or tenderness at the base of the finger
  • Pain in the palm
  • The finger may catch or lock in a bent position and then suddenly pop straight
  • The finger gets locked in a bent position and your child is unable to straighten

When a finger is stuck in the bent position and can no longer be straightened, medical care is needed to prevent permanent damage. Seek immediate medical care if your child's finger joint is warm to touch, red and swollen because it may be infected.

What tests are used to diagnose trigger finger?

This condition is diagnosed through a physical examination and by taking a medical history.

How is trigger finger treated?

There is a small chance that the trigger finger/thumb will go away on its own, more so in infants under 1 year of age. It is okay to watch the finger/thumb to see if it will go away on its own.

If the trigger finger/thumb does not go away on its own, it can get stuck or locked which can lead to a contracture (permanent shortening of the muscle or tendon).

If surgery is necessary to repair the trigger finger/thumb:

  • The surgery will be done in the operating room under general anesthesia (the child is put to sleep).
  • A small incision (cut) is made in the skin to open up the sheath, allowing the tendon to move freely.
  • The child is usually able to go home the same day.

After the surgery:

  • The hand will be bandaged, and sometimes there will be a splint or cast over the bandage.
  • The child is usually able to go home the same day.

Why choose Children's Hospital Colorado for your child's trigger finger?

Our Hand and Upper Extremity Program at Children's Colorado provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to the care of your child. This means you have access to leading specialists from multiple departments who work together to treat your child.

Your child's care team includes pediatric experts from orthopedic surgery, physical medicine, rehabilitation, occupational therapy and nursing.