Stiff fingers often result from arthritis, but there are other causes. They include tenosynovitis, which causes trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, or an injury. Stretching, home remedies, and medical treatment may help.

A person may experience stiff fingers at a specific time of the day. This may signify a certain condition that can help a doctor make a diagnosis. However, to determine the best treatment for stiff fingers, a doctor must identify the cause.

This article explores the various causes of stiff fingers and the treatment options available. It also describes some stretches and exercises a person can do at home to help restore flexibility to the hands.

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Various conditions can cause stiff fingers in the morning.


Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that results in inflammation around the joints. It affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States.

This condition results from the breakdown or damage to the joint cartilage between bones. The prolonged lack of movement during sleep can cause the joints to tighten up.

Other symptoms can include:

  • mild to severe joint pain
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • decreased range of motion
  • decreased flexibility

Osteoarthritis of the hands commonly affects the following:

  • the base of the thumb joint
  • the joints closest to the fingertips
  • the middle joint of the fingers

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory condition, which means that the immune cells within the body attack healthy cells and cause inflammation in certain parts of the body.

According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, a person may experience stiff fingers in the morning that can last for at least 30 minutes or longer. The condition commonly affects the wrist and finger joints.

Symptoms can include:

Symptoms often affect both sides of the body.

Some other signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • unexplained weight loss

Trigger finger

Trigger finger, or tenosynovitis, occurs when the fluid within the protective sheath around the tendons in the affected finger becomes inflamed. It can affect any finger or thumb.

This condition may lead to difficulty moving the affected joint, as well as:

  • pain when bending or straightening the finger
  • flushing
  • swelling
  • the finger remaining in a bent position
  • a tender lump at the base of the finger on the palm side of the hand
  • a catching, popping, or locking sensation with finger movement

Trigger finger may worsen after long periods of inactivity, such as in the morning after waking up.

Some potential causes of trigger finger include:

There may also be no established cause of trigger finger.

Dupuytren contracture

Dupuytren contracture is a condition that affects the connective tissue that surrounds the bones in the hands. The condition most commonly affects the ring and pinky fingers, and it is most common in the morning.

The type of collagen normally present in the hand is type 1 collagen. However, in Dupuytren contracture, this is replaced by type 3 collagen. This results in changes in hand mobility and grip strength.

Nodules form along the lines of the tendons, which eventually produce cords that result in contracture deformities. A person with Dupuytren contracture may feel the nodules on the palm side. The cords thicken and shorten, resulting in a loss of range of motion in the hands.

The affected fingers may contract, making it difficult to straighten them.

There are numerous possible causes of stiff fingers at night.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that runs from the forearm into the palm called the median nerve, experiences pressure or constriction at the wrist.

A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience frequent numbness or a tingling sensation in the fingers, especially in the:

  • thumb
  • index finger
  • middle finger

Symptoms often present at night when lying down. However, as the condition progresses, a person with carpal tunnel syndrome may also experience symptoms during the day, especially during repetitive actions.

Hand tendonitis

Tendonitis occurs due to inflammation and swelling of the tendons. It occurs due to repetitive activities such as playing sports and engaging in manual labor.

Hand tendonitis can cause pain just outside the joint, especially when moving the joint. It can also cause swelling in the affected area.

A person may develop carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. Pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome occurs as a result of fluid retention. The fluid softens the ligament in the tunnel of the wrist, which can compress the median nerve.

This condition causes symptoms such as:

  • numbness
  • stiffness
  • weakness
  • a tingling or burning sensation in the fingers
  • sharp shooting pains from the wrist
  • pain that radiates into the arm and shoulder
  • pain that is worse at night

Stiff fingers can also occur due to causes that are not specific to a time of day. For example, a person may experience stiff fingers as a result of a hand injury, such as:

Symptoms that may accompany a hand injury include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • flushing
  • warmth
  • bruising

When diagnosing the cause of finger stiffness, the doctor will likely ask about the person’s activity levels and symptoms. They may also ask about any injuries that occurred in the days leading up to the stiffness.

They may also perform a physical examination to check the range of motion and assess the symptoms.

The doctor may also order imaging tests, such as:

Looking at the underlying structures in the hand can help the doctor identify anything irregular, such as damage.

Treatment for stiff fingers will depend on the cause.

Almost all causes of stiff fingers will benefit from oral anti-inflammatory medications, such as:

Topical diclofenac sodium may also benefit people with stiff fingers.

A doctor will likely recommend a range of self-care methods and home remedies before considering alternative treatments, such as steroids or surgery.

Hand stretches may help prevent or ease stiffness.

Various stretches can help promote full hand function and a full range of motion. A 2017 study found that participants with rheumatoid arthritis had improved hand function after practicing hand exercises. Although some people might have difficulty adhering to long-term stretching exercises, they are crucial for improving hand function.

Hand and finger stretches are not a replacement for treatment, but they can complement it.

A doctor may recommend specific exercises. A person should follow the guidance of a doctor or physical therapist.

Gentle fist

Practicing making a soft fist can help promote motion in the hand. To perform this:

  1. Open the hand, spreading the fingers as far as possible.
  2. Make a gentle fist with the thumb over the rest of the fingers.
  3. Do not clench too tightly.
  4. Hold the position for 45 seconds.
  5. Repeat the process five times each day.

This should not cause pain and should help the hand feel more open and mobile.

Finger flexing

This helps promote a range of motion in the tendons and muscles. To perform this:

  1. Place the arm and hand flat on a table, with the palm facing up.
  2. Keeping the wrist straight, bring the fingers slowly toward the palm.
  3. Slowly release the fingers until they lie flat on the table again.
  4. Repeat the process 10 times.

Finger touches

Finger touches promote a range of motion in the thumb. To perform these:

  1. With the palm facing up, bring the fingers straight up.
  2. Bend the thumb across the palm to touch the base of the pinky finger, holding this position for 5 seconds.
  3. Move the thumb back to its usual position.
  4. Do this again, touching the thumb to the bases of the other fingers.
  5. Repeat this set five times.

Finger stretch

This stretches all of the fingers at once and may help improve the range of motion. To perform this:

  1. Start with the hand flat on a table, with the palm facing down.
  2. Apply slight pressure so the fingers lie as straight and flat against the table as possible without forcing the joints or causing pain.
  3. Hold this for up to 60 seconds, then release the position.
  4. Repeat this five times each day.

Fingertip stretch

This stretch promotes a range of motion in the tips of the fingers. To perform this:

  1. Hold the hand vertically, with the palm facing toward the body.
  2. Bring the fingertips down so that they touch the top of the palm.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then release it.
  4. Repeat this five times daily on each hand.

Grip and pinch strengtheners

Doctors may also recommend exercises with grip and pinch strengtheners. These soft, springy balls or putty provide some resistance when the person squeezes or pinches them.

Here are some tips on how to use them:

  • Squeeze a grip strengthener as hard as possible without causing pain.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds at a time, then relax.
  • Try to do the exercise 10–15 times per day.
  • Alternating hands on different days may be a good idea to allow each hand to rest.
  • When using a softer pinch strengthener, pinch it between all five fingers as hard as possible without causing pain. Hold the pinch for up to 30 seconds, then release it, and try to repeat the exercise 15 times per day.

Exercising with these tools is important to increase strength in the muscles of the hands and fingers.

There are certain things that a person with stiff fingers can do at home to improve their symptoms. These include:

  • applying heat or ice packs
  • taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin
  • applying capsaicin creams
  • resting the fingers in cases of acute injury or trauma
  • limiting the use of the affected fingers
  • wearing a splint to immobilize or support the alignment of the joint

In some cases, doctors may recommend medication for stiff fingers.


Oral or injectable corticosteroids may be an option for a person with a trigger finger, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis. They are anti-inflammatory and can help reduce inflammation.

A person who receives a corticosteroid injection for stiff fingers should avoid using the affected fingers for at least 3 days and avoid tight grips or grasping for 3 weeks.


Enzymes are proteins that speed up reactions within the body. Collagenase is an enzyme that breaks down collagen.

If a doctor thinks a collagenase injection is appropriate for a person, they will inject the enzyme into the cords present in Dupuytren contracture. The enzyme disrupts the cords, and the doctor manually ruptures them.

If the cause of stiff fingers is more severe or the condition has not responded well to other treatment options, the person may require surgery.

Limited fasciectomy

A person with Dupuytren contracture may require this type of surgery if their condition is severe or has not responded well to enzyme injections.

This involves surgically removing the cords to improve the mobility of stiff fingers. This is the most popular surgical technique.


A person may require tenolysis when the cause of the stiff fingers is an issue with the tendons.

This involves the surgical release or freeing of a tendon to restore range of movement.


A person with arthritis may require joint surgery, such as a synovectomy.

This involves the surgical removal of the damaged synovium or the lining of the joints. This may temporarily reduce pain and improve hand function.

Carpal tunnel release

A person with carpal tunnel syndrome may require a surgical process called carpal tunnel release.

This involves surgically cutting a ligament around the wrist. This reduces the pressure on the median nerve and may improve symptoms of stiff fingers.

Here are some frequently asked questions about stiff fingers.

Do hands get stiffer with age?

Hands and fingers may feel stiffer with age. There may be no other identifiable reason for this. However, some conditions that can cause stiff fingers, such as arthritis, are more likely to develop later in life.

Can dehydration cause fingers to lock up?

Dehydration can affect the body’s joints, including those in the fingers. Water makes up around 70–80% of joint cartilage, and dehydration can reduce the lubrication in the joints.

Arthritis or minor injuries are common causes of stiff fingers. In some cases, health issues involving the bones, connective tissues, or muscles in the hand are responsible.

A doctor can diagnose the cause and recommend the best course of treatment. Treatment options include taking pain medications, applying splints to the fingers, corticosteroid injections, and undergoing surgery.

Stretching the hands and fingers can help prevent stiffness, and exercises often complement treatment.