Causes and Treatments for Thumb Pain

Updated at: May 15, 2020
Causes and Treatments for Thumb Pain

When your thumb hurts is when you really notice just how much you use it. There are many conditions that can cause thumb pain. Get a handle on knowing the causes and treatment tips for thumb pain.

Vani Malik
PainWritten by: Vani MalikPublished at: Jul 01, 2018

Thumb pain is a condition that can be a result of injury or damage to the muscles, tendons, joints, bones, nerves, blood vessels, nails, connective tissue or skin. The pain that you experience may be a sharp, stabbing pain or a throbbing one. Some people also experience pain that burns. The intensity of the pain can be extreme or mild and can also become worse or improve when you move your thumb.

Causes of Thumb Pain

Thumb pain can be caused by a number of reasons. Trauma due to an injury, infections, neuromuscular conditions, diseases with an effect on blood flow to the thumb, inflammatory conditions, etc. can all be causes of thumb pain. Peripheral neuropathy and diabetes are also known to affect the thumb and cause pain, burning or tingling sensations as well as numbness.

Traumatic Causes

There are a large number of injuries on the thumb or its nerves that can cause thumb pain. They include the following:

  • Injuries caused by insect stings or bites
  • Burns on the thumb
  • Breaking or dislocation of bones
  • Compression or entrapment of the nerves, like the ulnar nerve
  • Herniated discs
  • Injury due to overuse of the thumb
  • Rupturing of tendons
  • Strains or sprains

Inflammatory Causes

Thumb pain can be caused by inflammations that come with arthritis or infections. Pain may be experienced in one thumb or both, or even just a small area. These causes include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cellulitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Gout
  • Abscess
  • Rashes

Neuromuscular Causes

There are many muscular or nerve conditions that can cause thumb pain. They include the following:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon
  • Dermatomyositis

Other Causes

Thumb pain can also be caused by a number of chronic illnesses and conditions, which include the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Malignant or benign tumors
  • Peripheral Artery Disease
  • Vasculitis
  • Diabetes
  • Transient ischemic attack
  • Weakness, tingling or numbness of the hands, including the thumb, can be a sign of a stroke. Immediate medical help should be sought if this symptom occurs.

Treatment for Thumb Pain

If you suffer from thumb pain, your physician will recommend various treatments which include the following:

  • Measures for self-care
  • Modification of activity
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications
  • Splints

Surgery may be recommended as well; however, it is only if the thumb pain is in an advanced stage. If it is in the early stages, surgical treatment is not necessary. Doctors recommend splints to provide support to the thumb joint. It helps in:

  • Decreasing the level of pain in the thumb
  • Providing rest to the joint
  • Providing proper positioning of the thumb

Depending on the severity of your thumb pain, you may need to wear a splint throughout the day or only during the night for relief.

Medications prescribed by doctors to treat thumb pain which include:

  • NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs which helps in providing relief from pain and reducing inflammation in the affected area
  • Acetaminophen which is a drug that provides pain relief with fewer side-effects
  • Prescription Pain Killers

If non-surgical treatments do not provide relief from thumb pain, your doctor will recommend surgery. The type of surgery that you need to undergo will depend on the underlying disorder that is causing the pain. Surgeries recommended for thumb pain include the following:

  • Osteotomy
  • Arthrodesis, or joint fusion
  • Arthroplasty, or joint replacement
  • Trapeziectomy

You can use self-care treatment such as exercising your thumb, applying cold or heat to the area, etc. However, it is important to remember to always consult your physician before you try out any exercise or treatment option. With the right care, you can gain relief from thumb pain and enjoy daily activities once again.

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