Read below about swollen thumb, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your swollen thumb from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Swollen Thumb Symptoms

Swelling of the thumb can be debilitating, since the thumb is so important for daily activities such as writing and manipulating objects. Unfortunately, the swollen thumb is often painful and stiff, and strength may be decreased. Swelling may occur due to conditions involving the skin, ligaments, bones, or joints between bones in the thumb. Many causes of thumb swelling can be expected to resolve with appropriate treatment.

Symptoms that can be associated with a swollen thumb include:

Swollen Thumb Causes Overview

Infectious causes:

  • Bacterial infection : The skin surrounding the thumbnail can develop a bacterial infection, causing pain, redness, and swelling. Thumb swelling can also be caused by a bacterial infection of the pad of the thumb; if untreated, this infection can progress to underlying structures such as the bone. Thumb joints can also be infected by bacteria.
  • Viral infection : The thumb can be infected by herpes virus via thumb sucking or nail biting when the mouth has active herpes lesions (cold sores). The infected thumb will be swollen, extremely painful, and small blisters will be present.

Injury-related causes:

Any type of injury to the structures of the thumb, including bone and ligaments, can potentially cause swelling.

  • Ligament sprain : A major ligament of the thumb can be injured when the thumb is forcefully pulled away from the rest of the hand, such as when you are trying to catch yourself during a fall. The thumb will be tender, bruised, and swollen.
  • Bone fracture : One of the thumb bones can be broken during a fall or through trauma from an athletic event.
  • Bone dislocation : The bone at the base of the thumb can be knocked out of its normal position relative to the adjacent bone of the hand, leading to swelling, pain, and an abnormal angle of the thumb.

Chronic joint disorders:

  • Arthritis : Multiple types of arthritis can cause swelling of the thumb joints, resulting in swelling, pain, and stiffness.
  • Gout : An acute attack of gout can cause swelling and severe pain. If gout is poorly controlled over a long period of time, it can also cause hard swelling of a joint, which can enlarge and interfere with movement of the thumb.

Tumors:

  • Bone tumor : Very rarely, a swelling of the thumb could be a benign or cancerous tumor of the bone. In this case swelling develops gradually, along with pain and decreased ability to move the thumb.
  • Metastasis : Also rarely, a swelling of the thumb may be a metastasis of cancer from another site in the body. Lung cancer is the most typical primary cancer.

4 Potential Swollen Thumb Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Jammed Thumb

    Jammed thumbs are common in sports but may occur during daily activity.

    2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    thumb injury, thumb pain from an injury, swollen thumb, finger bruise
    Symptoms that always occur with jammed thumb:
    thumb injury, thumb pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Middle Knuckle Thumb Dislocation

    The middle knuckle is called the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint. A thumb PIP joint dislocation occurs when trauma causes the bones of the thumb to dislodge, resulting in a very painful and swollen joint.

    With proper medical attention, pain is expected to resolve within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    finger dislocation at the knuckle connected to the palm, bent or crooked finger, swollen thumb
    Symptoms that always occur with middle knuckle thumb dislocation:
    bent or crooked finger, finger dislocation at the knuckle connected to the palm
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

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  3. 3.Smallest Knuckle Thumb Dislocation

    The smallest knuckle is called the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. A thumb DIP joint dislocation occurs when trauma causes the bones of the thumb to dislodge, resulting in a very painful and swollen joint.

    With proper medical attention, pain is expected to resolve within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    finger dislocation at the knuckle farthest from the palm, swollen thumb, bent or crooked finger
    Symptoms that always occur with smallest knuckle thumb dislocation:
    bent or crooked finger, finger dislocation at the knuckle farthest from the palm
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  4. 4.Sprained Thumb

    Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold together bones at joints. The thumb has several ligaments that support it, and these ligaments may get sprained if a person breaks a fall with their thumb. When ligaments become sprained, they do not necessarily tear. Low-grade (or mild) sprains happen when microscopic tears appear in the ligament, causing pain. A sprained thumb may limit a person's ability to grasp items. Other symptoms can involve bruising, tenderness, and swelling.

    Will likely resolve with no treatment within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    injury from a common fall, recent injury from bracing a fall with the hands, constant hand pain
    Symptoms that always occur with sprained thumb:
    constant hand pain, thumb pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Thumb Treatments and Relief

Seek emergency swollen thumb treatment if:

  • You have severe swelling, pain, or numbness after an injury, and/or the thumb appears to be at an abnormal angle. Quick treatment will help prevent long-term complications.
  • You have rapidly progressing swelling and pain of a thumb joint. It is especially important to get immediate treatment if you also have a fever or other signs of systemic illness.

In some cases, even though emergency care isn't necessary, you may need medical evaluation and treatment.

Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have decreased ability to carry out daily activities due to stiffness, weakness, or pain of the thumb.
  • You have thumb swelling that is worsening or staying the same over time.
  • You have previously been diagnosed with arthritis, gout, or cancer and have new thumb swelling.
  • You have drainage from the thumb.

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of the swollen thumb symptoms:

  • Antibiotics and drainage for a bacterial infection.
  • Antiviral medication for a viral infection.
  • Treatment for an underlying medical condition such as arthritis or gout.
  • A splint to ensure normal healing after an injury.
  • Referral for surgical management.
  • Steroid injection for arthritis.

Some home treatments may help with swollen thumb symptoms.

  • Applying an ice pack for up to 15 minutes a few times a day can help ease pain and swelling due to arthritis or an injury.
  • Avoiding shellfish, red meat, and alcohol can help prevent attacks of gout.
  • Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs can help with swelling and pain due to arthritis or an injury.
  • Soaking the thumb in warm water can help with pain, swelling, and stiffness.

FAQs About Swollen Thumb

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen thumb.

Can a swollen thumb be due to an infection?

Yes, the thumb may swell due to an infection. A bacterial infection of the skin around the thumbnail or the pad of the thumb can cause swelling, redness, and pain. The thumb joints can also be infected by bacteria, especially if there was a preceding injury that broke the skin. In addition, the thumb can be infected by herpes virus after exposure to cold sores in the mouth.

Why does gout cause a swollen thumb?

Attacks of gout occur periodically due to high levels of uric acid. Crystallization of this substance within a joint, such as a thumb joint, causes inflammation that then leads to swelling and severe pain. If you have gout over a long period of time and it is not well controlled with medications, crystals can bind with other substances to create a large, hard nodule within the joint.

What kinds of injuries cause a swollen thumb?

Any type of injury to the structures that make up the thumb will likely lead to swelling. One common injury is a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament, which stabilizes the joint at the base of the thumb. A thumb bone can be fractured, or the bone at the base of the thumb can be dislocated.

Will I need surgery to fix a swollen thumb?

In some cases, surgery is necessary to address the cause of a swollen thumb. Serious injuries may require surgical management, such as if the major ligament of the thumb is completely torn. Surgery may also be indicated for severe arthritis that is uncontrolled by other treatments. In the rare case that swelling of the thumb is caused by a tumor, surgical removal will likely be required.

Why is my thumb swollen and stiff?

When stiffness is present in addition to swelling, arthritis is the most likely cause. Arthritis of the thumb is most commonly due to osteoarthritis, which tends to occur with aging. However, thumb arthritis can also occur as part of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis. Any type of thumb arthritis will involve pain, stiffness, and swelling, resulting in difficulty using the thumb for daily activities such as gripping objects.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Thumb

  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?
  • Q.Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?
  • Q.Where exactly is your hand pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen thumb symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Thumb Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen thumb have also experienced:

    • 46% Thumb Pain
    • 5% Moderate Thumb Pain
    • 5% Joint Stiffness
  • People who have experienced swollen thumb had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Day
    • 35% Less Than a Week
    • 13% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced swollen thumb were most often matched with:

    • 2% Jammed Thumb
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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