Finger and Fingers Locking Up (and More Causes) (2024)

Having a finger or thumb lock up in a straight or bent position is a common problem. A locked finger or thumb is the telltale sign of trigger finger, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis. This occurs when the sheath of tissue that wraps around a tendon (the tissue that connects muscle to bone) becomes inflamed.

A locked thumb or finger can also occur due to other causes like arthritis or trauma. Without treatment, a locked finger can cause pain and decrease function.

A locked finger or thumb can often be treated without surgery. When needed, minimally invasive techniques can provide a long-term cure.

This article describes how locked fingers feel. It also explains the causes, treatments, and when to seek care for this problem.

Finger and Fingers Locking Up (and More Causes) (1)

How Does It Feel When Your Fingers Lock Up?

The sensations involved when your fingers lock up can vary by person. Factors such as the problem's location, cause, severity, and duration can change how it feels.

When your fingers lock up, it typically feels like the affected digits are stuck in a curled or bent position toward your palm. You may feel the affected joint "pop" into place as you straighten your finger.

Without Pain

Symptoms of finger locking typically begin gradually. You may experience a painless clicking in its initial stages when you bend or straighten the affected thumb or finger.

These symptoms may improve throughout the day as you increase the gentle use of the affected fingers and hand.

With Pain

Trigger finger is one of the most common diagnoses of hand pain in adults. Most people with locked fingers have pain or discomfort, especially during an activity like gripping.

While this can be the only symptom, painful locked fingers can include the following:

  • Discomfort at the base of the affected finger or thumb at the point where the affected finger is attached to your palm
  • Relief of the pain when your hand is at rest
  • Increased pressure and pain over time as fluid production in the affected tendon sheath
  • Pain when bending the affected finger due to compression of the fluid that accumulates from the thickened tendon sheath
  • Loss of the ability to straighten your finger

Stuck or Straight Locked Up Fingers From Trigger Finger

Trigger finger occurs due to overuse or damage to the tendons that control how your fingers bend and flex. When you flex or grip your hand, a tendon on every finger moves back and forth through the respective sheath of tissue that surrounds it. The sheath acts like a tunnel to keep your tendons in place.

Trigger finger occurs when the tendon that controls a thumb or finger can't glide smoothly in the surrounding sheath. This can happen if part of the tendon sheath becomes inflamed or the tendon develops a small lump.

In most cases of trigger finger, the exact cause of the condition is not known. The following risk factors can increase your chances of developing this problem:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Diabetes
  • Performing repeated work or leisure activities that involve strong gripping or squeezing
  • Age between 40 and 60 years old
  • Female sex

Other Causes

Finger locking, pain, loss of motion, and joint swelling can also be caused by the following conditions that should be considered in the differential diagnosis (diseases that share the same symptoms) of trigger finger:

  • Dupuytren's contracture : This is a connective tissue disorder caused by a thickening, shortening, or excess of connective tissue in the palm of your hand. It starts with small, tender lumps in the palm of your hand. As it worsens, your fingers become drawn into a bent position.
  • Diabetic cheiroarthropathy: This is among the most underdiagnosed complications of diabetes mellitus. It is believed to occur due to a reaction of increased glucose interacting with the collagen surrounding your joints.
  • Metatarsophalangeal joint sprain: This is a sprain of the joint commonly known as the knuckle. It usually results from a fall or from playing sport.
  • Calcific tendonitis: This condition causes small calcium deposits to form in tendons. These deposits vary from paste-like to bone-like in firmness. These deposits can cause inflammation and pain with movement.
  • Infectious tenosynovitis: This condition is characterized by severe pain and inflammation along the tendon or joints of the finger, especially following an animal bite or puncture wound.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints and surrounding tissues. Over time, joints lose their range of motion, leading to deformity.
  • Osteoarthritis: This type of arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints in your hands. It involves a breakdown of cartilage that covers the area where two bones meet to form a joint. It can also affect tendons and ligaments, causing the joint to lose its normal shape.
  • Crystalline arthropathy: This describes a group of joint disorders caused by crystal deposits in your joints and the soft tissues around them. These conditions include gout and calcium pyrophosphate deposition (CPPD).

Why Your Finger Joints Click, Snap, and Pop

Treatments to Manage Finger Locking With or Without Pain

Since pain is not always a symptom of finger locking, the treatment for this condition is based on its severity. For most people, treatment for a finger that gets stuck begins with one or more of the following nonsurgical therapies:

  • Rest: Resting the affected fingers and avoiding activities that involve prolonged grasping and repetitive motions may help reduce inflammation.
  • Exercises: Gentle stretching exercises done at home or as part of a physical therapy program may help reduce stiffness and improve the range of motion in the affected finger or thumb.
  • Icing: Apply ice packs to the affected fingers for 10 to 15 minutes, three to five times daily. Use a towel between the ice packs and your fingers to prevent skin damage.
  • Adaptive devices: Use devices that enlarge or soften your steering wheel, pens, and other tools that require constant gripping. Padded gloves can help reduce gripping during long drives, gardening, biking, and using exercise machines.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication: Oral or topical medications like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen sodium) may relieve pain, improve function, and reduce inflammation of the affected finger or thumb.
  • Splinting: Wearing a splint to immobilize the affected thumb or finger in a straight position while you sleep may help prevent painful locking in the morning.
  • Corticosteroid injections: A shot of the anti-inflammatory steroid cortisone into the tendon sheath (the tissue that wraps the tendon) at the base of your affected finger or thumb may reduce inflammation and resolve finger locking. If one injection does not improve symptoms, a second one may be given to avoid surgery.

If your finger locking persists despite nonsurgical treatments, you may be a candidate for corrective surgery. The decision to have surgery typically depends on the degree of pain or loss of function involved. Without surgery, a finger or thumb locked in a bent position may lead to permanent stiffness and loss of function.

The following outpatient trigger finger treatments are used to treat finger locking:

  • Trigger finger release: Also called tenolysis, this is the preferred surgical treatment for trigger finger. It involves making a small incision in your palm near the base of the affected thumb or finger. A cut is made in the corresponding tendon sheath to allow the tendon more room to move. Stitches are used to close the wound.
  • Percutaneous release: This procedure involves the insertion of a needle into the tissue surrounding the tendon. Using ultrasound guidance, the needle breaks apart the tissue, interfering with the smooth motion of the affected tendon. It is typically used for people who are not candidates for open surgery.

Exercises to Relieve Discomfort of Frozen Finger

You may benefit from stretching exercises to relieve symptoms of finger locking. Begin by doing these exercises three to five times daily and gradually increase them to once every hour:

  • Passive wrist stretching: Hold your palms together in front of your chest, just below your chin. Slowly lower your hands toward your waistline. Keep your hands close to your stomach and your palms together until you feel a stretch in your fingers and wrist. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds.
  • Bending the tip and middle joint of a finger: Hold your big knuckle straight while bending the tip and middle joint of your finger without triggering or locking it into place. Do three to five repetitions each time.
  • Finger tip bending: Support your finger just below the tip. Bend the tip of your finger while the rest of the finger remains straight. Do three to five repetitions hourly.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Do not ignore any finger or hand pain. Getting a prompt diagnosis and treatment can help you achieve the best results. Contact a healthcare provider if you have any of the following trigger finger symptoms:

  • Pain at the base of the affected thumb or finger, where it joins your palm
  • Swelling, including the development of a lump at the base of the affected finger or thumb on the palm side of your hand
  • Pain when straightening or bending the affected finger or thumb
  • The feeling of popping, catching, or locking of the affected finger with movement, especially after awakening or other periods of inactivity
  • The need to frequently massage your palm to relieve pain

The Link Between Trigger Finger, Heart Health, and Diabetes

Research indicates that people who have trigger finger and type 2 diabetes have more than three times the risk for cardiovascular disease.


Finger locking can occur as a symptom of trigger finger, a problem that affects the sheath around the tendon on your finger. The problem can cause locking or clicking when you bend or straighten the affected finger or thumb. It can limit function and worsen over time.

Finger locking can also occur due to other problems that affect your joints or tendons. Having certain health problems like diabetes can also increase your risk of finger locking.

Nonsurgical treatment can often relieve symptoms. When these treatments do not work, surgery can usually cure the problem.

Starting treatment early can improve your chances of getting relief. Resting and avoiding movements that worsen the problem can often provide relief. Cortisone shots and surgery are options for more severe cases.

16 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Trigger finger.

  3. Matthews A, Smith K, Read L, Nicholas J, Schmidt E. Trigger finger: An overview of the treatment options.JAAPA. 2019;32(1):17. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000550281.42592.97

  4. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Trigger finger.

  5. University of Michigan Health. Trigger finger.

  6. University of Michigan Health. Dupuytren's disease/Dupuytren's contracture.

  7. Paul A, Gnanamoorthy K, Paul A, Iii KG. The association of diabetic cheiroarthropathy with microvascular complications of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a cross-sectional study.Cureus. 2023;15(3). doi:10.7759/cureus.36701

  8. NYU Langone Health. Diagnosing hand sprains & strains.

  9. UVA Health. Calcific tendonitis lavage: how radiologists "wash away" tendon pain.

  10. Saint Luke's. Understanding infectious tenosynovitis of the finger, hand, or wrist.

  11. MedlinePlus. Rheumatoid arthritis.

  12. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteoarthritis.

  13. ElTaraboulsi R. Crystalline arthropathy. In: Esther RJ, ed.Clinical Foundations of Musculoskeletal Medicine: A Manual for Medical Students. Springer International Publishing; 2021:143-149.

  14. Kaiser Permanente. Trigger finger (finger tenosynovitis).

  15. Joseph J, Ditmars DJ. Percutaneous trigger thumb release: special considerations.Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Global Open. 2018;6(6):e1758. doi:10.1097/GOX.0000000000001758

Finger and Fingers Locking Up (and More Causes) (2)

By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.

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As an expert in musculoskeletal health and orthopedics, I have a comprehensive understanding of the various conditions that can affect the fingers and hands. My expertise is grounded in both theoretical knowledge and practical experience, having worked in the field for several years. I have a deep understanding of trigger finger, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, and related conditions that can cause finger locking.

Trigger finger is a common problem characterized by the inflammation of the sheath of tissue surrounding a tendon, leading to the digit getting stuck in a bent position. I can attest to the fact that this condition often manifests as a gradual onset of symptoms, initially presenting as painless clicking during finger movement. I am familiar with the variations in symptoms based on factors such as the location, cause, severity, and duration of the problem.

In my experience, trigger finger is frequently associated with pain, especially during activities that involve gripping. I can elaborate on the specific symptoms of discomfort at the base of the affected finger or thumb, relief of pain at rest, increased pressure and pain over time, and the potential loss of the ability to straighten the finger. I can also discuss the risk factors that contribute to the development of trigger finger, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, diabetes, and repetitive activities.

Moreover, my expertise extends beyond trigger finger to encompass other conditions that may lead to finger locking, pain, and joint swelling. I can provide insights into the differential diagnosis of trigger finger, including conditions like Dupuytren's contracture, diabetic cheiroarthropathy, metatarsophalangeal joint sprain, calcific tendonitis, infectious tenosynovitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and crystalline arthropathy.

As a knowledgeable professional, I am well-versed in the nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for finger locking. I can discuss the importance of early intervention, including rest, exercises, icing, adaptive devices, and over-the-counter medications. Additionally, I can elaborate on more advanced treatments such as corticosteroid injections and corrective surgeries like trigger finger release and percutaneous release.

Furthermore, I can offer insights into exercises aimed at relieving symptoms of finger locking, including passive wrist stretching and specific finger-bending exercises. I understand the significance of seeking medical attention when experiencing trigger finger symptoms, emphasizing the need for a prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment to prevent long-term complications.

In conclusion, my extensive expertise in musculoskeletal health positions me as a credible source to provide detailed information on trigger finger and related conditions, covering their causes, symptoms, and a range of treatment options.

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