We use our thumbs for almost all daily activities, including gripping, grasping, pulling, and pushing. It is no wonder why there are so many people that suffer from pain in their thumb(s).
The thumb joint is one of the most mobile joints in our body. Because of this mobility there is potentially an increase in stress on the joint and connective tissues.
Where does this pain come from? Pain can come from inflammation of the connective tissues called tendons and ligaments, and/or from the joint itself. Overuse of the thumb can cause wear and tear of the articular cartilage of the joint. It can also cause inflammation of the tendons. Ligament problems usually occur when there is trauma to the thumb joint.
The following is a list of diagnoses given for thumb pain with their symptoms:
Thumb Sprain – “Jammed thumb”
- Injury to the ligaments of the thumb. The ligaments connect the bones at the base of the thumb.
- Symptoms- thumb pain, joint stiffness, muscle soreness
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis –
- Inflammation of the tendon on the thumb side of the wrist
- Symptoms – thumb pain, wrist pain, swelling, pain with grasping, pain with making a fist
Trigger Finger –
- Inflammation of a tendon causing the thumb to get stuck in a bent position and then snap to straighten
- Symptoms – thumb pain, stiffness, feeling a lump
Carpel Tunnel Syndrome –
- The median nerve gets compressed at the wrist between the transverse ligament and the carpal bones.
- Symptoms – thumb pain, numbness, tingling index and middle finger pain, numbness, tingling
Osteoarthritis of the Thumb Joint –
- Wearing of the cartilage at the joint, located at the base of the thumb. The joint is called the carpometacarpal joint.
- Symptoms – swelling, pain, stiffness, decreased strength with gripping, pinching
What do you do if you have pain? Conservative treatment is the most effective means of treating the thumb. Resting the thumb and avoiding aggravating activities is important to begin the healing process. Wearing a thumb spica splint can be very beneficial. Taking anti-inflammatory medication (if approved by your MD), and icing can help to decrease the swelling and inflammation. Working with a physical therapist can help to expedite the recovery. A physical therapy evaluation can help to determine where your pain is coming from. Use of modalities to decrease inflammation, mobilization techniques to increase range of motion, and strengthening exercises are all tools used to help restore function and get you back “on your game.”