What Causes Pain In The Thumb?

Sep 29, 2021 | Written by Kon, Written by Prab | 0 comments

Thumb pain is becoming more and more common nowadays. From texting to gaming, we use our thumbs everyday and as a result, injuries occur. Numerous factors can cause pain in the thumb but tracing it back to the cause is extremely important as it helps diagnose the reason for the pain.

Here are some examples of thumb conditions that you might be facing and the reason why it has happened.

Repetitive stress injuries –

  • Osteoarthritis (especially in the base of the thumb)
  • Tendinopathies (i.e. Trigger thumb, De Quarvains)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Joint irritation/strain
  • Ligament injuries (i.e. Gamekeepers thumb)

Traumatic Injuries –

  • Fractures
  • Thumb sprain / strain
  • Ligament injuries (i.e. Skier’s thumb)
  • Volar plate injury
  • Catcher’s thumb injury

Inflammatory Disorders –

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout

How Do You Relieve Thumb Pain?

There are many ways of relieving thumb pain but the first thing to do would be getting it assessed by a healthcare professional. This will allow the condition to be diagnosed, the best treatment to be prescribed for that particular condition and prevent the condition from getting worse if you are doing the wrong thing for that particular injury.

However, here are some methods that have shown to help with thumb pain –

  • Rest & avoiding movements that cause pain
  • Icing the affected area especially if swelling is present
  • Compression (i.e. elastic bandages)
  • Elevation (keeping the hand raised above the heart to help with swelling and pain)
  • The use of splints (especially at night)
  • Casting (for fractures)
  • Stretching & exercise rehabilitation
  • Manual therapy (soft tissue massage, joint mobilization)
  • Medication (non steroidal anti-inflammatories)

What Does Thumb Arthritis Feel Like?

The thumb, especially the base of the thumb, is one of the most prevalent sites in the body to be affected by arthritis (Swigart, 2008). There are various types of arthritis such as rheumatoid & osteoarthritis. However the symptoms faced do not vary greatly between the types of arthritis.

Here are some of the most common symptoms that you might feel with thumb arthritis (Zhang, 2005) –

  • Swelling and tenderness (especially at the base of the thumb)
  • Aching sensation after excessive use of the thumb
  • Loss of strength (especially when gripping or pinching objects)
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Enlarged appearance at base of thumb (due to bony spurs, especially with progressive severe arthritis)

What Are The Symptoms Of Tendonitis In The Thumb?

Tendonitis within the thumb is most commonly known as De Quervain’s syndrome or tenosynovitis. This pertains to inflammation of the tendon sheath on the side of the wrist at the base of the thumb.

If you spread out your hand you can locate these two tendons, being the Extensor Pollicis Brevis (EPB) and the Abductor Pollicis Longus (APL) which make up a border of the anatomical snuffbox.

As aforementioned, these injuries are due to repetition of thumb or wrist motion.

Therefore, over time as the tendon is overloaded, inflammation occurs which is followed by a thickening of the tendon sheath further entrapping the EPB and APL tendons.

This can lead to radial sided wrist pain that radiates up the forearm with thumb or wrist movements and especially with grasping. Other symptoms include –

  • Pain described as a dull ache or burning sensation
  • Aggravated by repetitive lifting or grasping
  • Reduced thumb abduction range of motion
  • Weakness of tingling in the hand

How Do I Get Rid Of Tendonitis In The Thumb?

As previously mentioned, de Quervain’s pertains to an overload or repetitive strain injury. Different modalities can be applied to different stages of rehabilitation. It is important to have your injury for your specific circumstances assessed and treated by a relevant healthcare professional to ensure you are gaining the most relevant and effective advice for your rehabilitation.

During the acute phase, rehabilitation goals include managing initial symptoms of inflammation and reducing pain. This can include –

  • Splinting
  • Avoiding aggravating movements
  • Icing
  • NSAIDs

After this initial phase it is important to look for long term strategies.

If you’re treating this through conservative management then this would most likely involve isometric or eccentric loading or strengthening of the tendon prescribed by the relevant healthcare professional.

The aim of this stage is to ensure positive adaptations within your tendon in order for you to complete the tasks or activities that once bothered you, pain free.