Skip to main contentSkip to accessibility services
Read about

Top 10 Reasons for Swollen Fingers

Tooltip Icon.
Last updated January 21, 2021

Swollen fingers quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen fingers.

Are your fingers swollen in the morning? Is it difficult to remove rings? Learn about the top 10 causes of swollen fingers and relief options.

8 most common causes

Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Black Toenail Fungus
Cellulitis
Dislocated Finger
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Psoriatic Arthritis
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Dupuytren's Disease
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Boxer's fracture
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Non-serious finger injury

Swollen fingers quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen fingers.

Take swollen fingers quiz

Hallmarks swollen finger symptoms

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Most people first notice swelling because the affected body part may appear larger than normal. Often, a swollen finger can be easily identified by comparing its size to the size of your other fingers; however, sometimes the swelling may not be visibly obvious and difficult to discern. Often people with a swollen finger also experience other symptoms in addition to the swelling.

Common accompanying symptoms of swollen fingers

If you're experiencing a swollen finger, it's also likely to experience:

  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Skin pitting: Skin that dimples or pits after pressing on the affected area for a few seconds.
  • Pain
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area

If you notice any of these swollen finger symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor promptly in order to follow-up on your symptoms, get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care.

What causes swollen fingers?

Any condition that causes accumulation of fluid in the tissues of your finger will cause swelling. Swelling can occur throughout the body due to a variety of causes but swelling in just one finger has a more limited number of triggers. A swollen finger may not seem serious initially, but without prompt medical follow-up and care your symptoms could become worse.

Inflammatory causes

Your finger may be swelling due to inflammatory causes, such as the following.

  • Rheumatologic: This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body's tissues and joints. Conditions such as arthritis and gout cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness and tenderness of single fingers and often the big toe.
  • Infection: Bacteria that is always present on the skin can easily get into the finger via a cut, bite or other puncture. The bacteria will infect the tissues of the finger and cause entrance of fluids into the tissues that result in inflammation, swelling and other associated symptoms. Viral infections can also cause swelling of the finger in people with jobs that require exposure of the finger to body parts such as the mouth (dentists, nurses, healthcare professionals). This condition is known as herpetic whitlow.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes of a swollen finger include:

  • Trauma: Trauma to the finger that causes swelling can include simple mishaps such as jamming one's finger on a wall or table to serious accidents that result in broken bones.
  • Weather: Sometimes extremely cold or hot weather can trigger swelling in people with pre-existing conditions such as Raynaud's syndrome [5]. Observe for any patterns in your finger swelling and tell your doctor in order to investigate an underlying condition.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the lining of the joints, causing them to become thickened and painful. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, eyes, and circulatory system.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system turns against itself for unknown reasons.

Most at risk are women from ages 30-60. Other risk factors are family history, smoking, and obesity.

Early symptom include warm, swollen, stiff, painful joints, especially the fingers and toes; fatigue; and fever. Usually, the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.

If untreated, irreversible joint damage and deformity can occur, with other complications. Early diagnosis can allow preventive treatment to begin as soon as possible.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests; and x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the disease can be managed to improve quality of life. Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; steroids; anti-rheumatic drugs; physical therapy; and sometimes surgery to repair the joints.

Swollen fingers quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen fingers.

Take swollen fingers quiz

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a complication of psoriasis, which causes the skin to become thickened, red, and scaly. Arthritis may appear before or after the psoriasis appears.

Both conditions are autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself, and are thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.

Most susceptible are people from 30 to 50 years of age with a family history of the disease and who already have psoriasis.

Symptoms include the joints on one or both sides of the body becoming painful, swollen, and hot; swelling and deformity of the fingers and toes; pitted, flaking fingernails; foot pain in the heels and soles; and joint pain in the low back pain.

It is important to seek treatment, as psoriatic arthritis can permanently damage the joints, eyes, and heart.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-rays, and MRI. Blood tests and joint fluid tests can confirm psoriatic arthritis.

Treatment includes over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; anti-rheumatic medication; immunosuppressants; and steroid injections for the joints. Surgery to replace damaged joints may also be tried.

Non-serious finger injury

Finger injuries are very common & rarely need medical treatment.

You can treat this at home with ice and rest. An X-ray would be necessary to rule out a fracture if you had swelling and difficulty moving the finger.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury, swollen finger, severe finger pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-serious finger injury: recent finger injury

Symptoms that never occur with non-serious finger injury: bent or crooked finger

Urgency: Self-treatment

Nail infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is an infection of the skin of the fingers or toes, at the place where the skin folds down to meet the nail.

Acute, or sudden onset, paronychia is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The organism can gain entry if the nail is cracked, broken, bitten, or trimmed too closely.

Chronic, or ongoing, paronychia is caused by a fungus. Anyone whose work requires their hands to be wet much of the time is susceptible.

People with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more susceptible to nail infections.

Symptoms include sore, reddened, swollen skin around the nail, sometimes with pus collecting under the skin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes skin culture to identify the organism involved.

Treatment for acute paronychia involves having a medical provider clean the wounded nail and drain any infection, and sometimes provide a course of antibiotics.

Treatment for the chronic form involves keeping the skin dry and using an antifungal medication on the affected nail.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: spontaneous finger pain, fingernail pain, fingernail swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Dupuytren disease

Dupuytren disease, also known as Dupuytren's contracture, is a condition that causes tissue under the skin of the palm to thicken. This thickening can occur slowly over many years. Its cause is not known, but it is more common in men and people over the age of 40. Symptoms include hard bumps or bands of tissue under the skin, finger stiffness, and trouble fully straightening the fingers.

You should consider visiting a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. Dupuytren disease can be evaluated with a review of your symptoms and a physical exam. Once diagnosed, symptoms of mild cases can be relieved with hand exercises, warm baths, and stretching. More severe cases can be treated with steroid injections, surgery, radiation therapy, or a needling procedure.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: finger joint stiffness, hand bump, thickened skin on the finger, swollen hands, hand injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Dislocated finger

Dislocations of the finger at the base of the finger are relatively rare. However, when they do happen, they can damage the blood supply to the finger and its nerves.

You should go immediately to an urgent care or emergency room, where a physician can "reduce" - put the finger back into place - safely. Simple dislocations typically require just buddy tape to a nearby finger. Complicated fractures (need an x-ray) would need immobilization with a splint. Following reduction, the doctor should ensure that blood is flowing to the tips of the finger properly. If he/she cannot put it back into place, they should consult a hand surgeon.

Cellulitis

Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.

The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.

Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.

Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.

Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.

Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Boxer's fracture

Boxer's fracture is a term for a fracture of one of fingers and generally occurs after a closed fist makes contact with a hard object.

Apply ice to relieve pain and swelling. If there is an open wound, gently clean with soap and water. Proceed to your nearest urgent care clinic.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: finger pain, swollen finger, finger bruise, punched a hard object

Symptoms that always occur with boxer's fracture: finger pain, swollen finger, punched a hard object

Urgency: In-person visit

Swollen fingers quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen fingers.

Take swollen fingers quiz

When are swollen fingers dangerous?

When to see a doctor for a swollen finger

If your swollen finger symptoms persist for a prolonged period and worsen despite not seeming related to a traumatic event, make an appointment with your doctor. Depending on the swollen finger cause your doctor may initiate:

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your swollen finger symptoms are due to a bacterial infection.
  • Rheumatologic medications: There are several types of medications that combat rheumatologic conditions that may be causing your swollen finger. Talk to your doctor to discuss and come to an agreement about the best type of treatment.

When a swollen finger is an emergency

You should seek medical care immediately if:

  • Your finger appears deformed
  • You cannot straighten your finger
  • The area becomes hot and inflamed and you develop a fever.
  • Swelling and pain increases significantly and persists
  • The finger becomes numb and turns white or pink

These symptoms may be related to a more serious cause such as a broken finger resulting in decreased blood flow to the finger and/or hand.

At-home treatments for a swollen finger

If you notice a swollen finger after an injury or trauma such as jamming or hitting your finger, start with the following treatments:

  • Rest, ice, and elevate: Put an ice pack on your finger or place your finger in ice water every 15 minutes. (Except for possible Raynaud's Syndrome, see above). Maintain your finger elevated and still to minimize further irritation and prevent continued fluid accumulation in your tissues.
  • Protect: If the pain and swelling persists, you can protect the affected finger from further trauma by attaching it to an adjacent finger using tape or a self-adhesive wrap [6]. The affected finger will be less likely to move which prevents further inflammation and fluid accumulation.

Swollen fingers FAQs

Can exercise cause my fingers to swell?

Yes, exercise can cause your fingers to swell. When you exercise, your heart significantly increases the amount of blood it pumps in order to get enough oxygen to your muscles. This is accompanied by dilation of the blood vessels in your arms and legs, which helps increase blood flow to these muscles and cool the body. This increased blood flow can lead to swelling as some water leaves the blood to the tissues in the fingers.

Which foods make your fingers swell?

Classically, salty foods are responsible for finger swelling. When you eat a lot of salt, your body retains more water than it otherwise would in order to keep its salt concentration within normal range. This can lead to bloating in the hands and feet, which you may experience as finger swelling.

Why do my fingers swell at night?

Your fingers may swell at night for a few reasons. Many of us indulge in heavy salt-laden dinners right before bed, which can lead to finger swelling. Alternatively, you may be sleeping in a position that leads to hand and finger swelling. Overuse of your hands at work may lead to swelling that worsens throughout the day, which you only notice once work is finished by night time. Finally, you may also get finger swelling from arthritis as a result of the accumulated trauma of a day of work or autoimmune inflammation.

Why are my fingers swelling for no reason?

While the reason for your finger swelling may not be clear, one certainly exists. Most finger swelling is relatively benign when a cause is not immediately apparent. Some reasons your fingers may swell include heavy salt consumption, exercise, high temperatures, arthritis, overuse, or injury. Rarely, finger swelling is a sign of heart, liver or kidney failure, but these are chronic conditions accompanied by other symptoms and swelling that is worse in the legs.

Do STDs cause swollen fingers?

STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) are not a common cause of swollen fingers. In rare cases, gonorrhea can spread to other sites in the body, including large and small joints. Most commonly, this involves joints such as the knees, wrists, and ankles, rather than those of the fingers. It is possible, as well, to get skin lesions such as herpes on the fingers which cause swelling.

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen fingers

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Do you have these contractures that limit the movement of your fingers? (See picture)
  • Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?
Hear what 1 other is saying
Swollen fingerPosted June 10, 2020 by G.
Female, age 14. The part of the nail beside my ring finger is really swollen. It is very painful, even with the slightest touch. It is yellowish-greenish in the middle of where it's swollen. I haven't gone to the doctor yet since I think it will go away, but every day it gets worse. Also, the part where it's swollen is constantly warm.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
Read full bio

Was this article helpful?

4 people found this helpful
Tooltip Icon.