Read below about thumb pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your thumb pain 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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Thumb Pain Quiz

Thumb Pain Symptoms

Texting. Where would we be without it? Long gone are the days of picking up the phone and giving a friend or family member a call. This technology can suddenly become an inconvenience when thumb pain strikes. Thumb pain symptoms can make everyday activities difficult. It can be nearly impossible to grip onto anything, including door knobs, the steering wheel, and your morning cup of coffee.

If you're experiencing thumb pain symptoms, are you also experiencing any of the following symptoms?

  • Localized pain in the thumb joint
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty gripping
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Increased difficulty completing once simple tasks

There are a variety of reasons that could be behind your thumb pain symptoms. Whether it's arthritis, an infection, or carpal tunnel syndrome, finding the root cause of your discomfort is the first step towards finding relief [1,2].

Thumb Pain Causes Overview

Thumb pain doesn't have to get in the way of your daily activities. Though it may take time and a bit of detective work, finding the cause behind your discomfort isn't as difficult as you might think.

Trauma:

  • Accident: Hitting your thumb with a hammer or jamming it in a doorway are just two ways you can injure your thumb. Unless you suspect a broken bone or have unstoppable bleeding, resting the thumb is your best course of treatment.
  • Overuse: Using any part of the body more than usual can lead to muscle strain and soreness. Texting, playing video games, or mixing up a few extra batches of your grandma's famous chocolate chip cookies can lead to temporary strain and soreness.
  • Broken bone: There are several types of bone fractures that can cause thumb pain symptoms. All have different treatments and will need a proper medical diagnosis.

Infections:

  • Septic arthritis: While uncommon, an infection of the thumb joint warrants swift medical attention. Antibiotics are almost always used and, in severe cases, drainage is required to prevent permanent joint damage [3].
  • Tendon sheath infection: Tendons connect muscles to bones and help control specific movements. A sheath protects a tendon. If the sheath in your thumb becomes infected, movement will be painful, and your grip will weaken.

Conditions and diseases:

  • Arthritis: There are several different forms of arthritis but one that affects the hands the most is osteoarthritis [1]. As cartilage breaks down, bones begin to rub on other bones. This decreases grip strength and hinders your normal range of motion.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of thumb arthritis which include:

  • Being female
  • Being over 40 years old
  • Being overweight
  • Having malformed joints or joint deformities
  • Repetitive injuries to your thumb
  • Excessive use and stress on thumb joint

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Thumb Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced thumb pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.De Quervain's Tenosynovitis

    De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. If you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis, you will feel pain upon turning your wrist, grasping anything, or making a fist.

    4-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    hand numbness, thumb pain, hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand
    Symptoms that always occur with de quervain's tenosynovitis:
    thumb pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Thumb Arthritis

    Arthritis of the thumb is common with aging and occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of bones that form the thumb joint. This can cause severe pain, swelling and decreased strength and range of motion, making it difficult to do simple tasks, such as turning doorknobs and opening jars.

    This condition is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    difficulty moving the thumb, thumb pain that affects sleep, thumb pain from overuse, pain in the thumb side of the hand, spontaneous thumb pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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

    Thumb Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having thumb pain.

    Thumb Pain Quiz
  4. 4.Wrist Bone (Scaphoid) Fracture

    A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone. When a person falls on their outstretched hand, the scaphoid is the bone that is most likely to break. It is located on the thumb side of the wrist, in the area where the wrist bends.

    Wrist bone fractures take about 10-16 weeks to heal.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    hand weakness, swollen thumb, wrist pain that gets worse when gripping something, difficulty moving the thumb, wrist pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.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

Thumb Pain Treatments and Relief

There are a few symptoms you should look out for if your skin has recently changed.

Experiencing any of these listed symptoms warrants a trip to your doctor sooner than later.

  • You have an open wound that won't stop bleeding
  • There are visual signs of an infection
  • The pain continues to worsen with time
  • You can't move your thumb at all or it becomes numb

If you don't believe a trip to the doctor is necessary, there are ways to alleviate your thumb pain symptoms at home.

  • OTC medications: To relieve swelling and thumb pain, over the counter pain medications can be used as directed. However, if you find yourself still needing the medication after the recommended time window, make an appointment with your doctor.
  • Rest: Avoid using your thumb as much as possible. Use a splint if necessary.
  • Essential oils: For arthritis related discomfort, many find relief with essential oils.
  • Physical therapy: You can either practice your own physical therapy routine at home or seek professional assistance. Just make sure you have the approval of your doctor before starting a routine. Focus on a mixture of dexterity, strengthening, and range of motion exercises [4].

Get back to texting by eliminating thumb pain symptoms once and for all. While it may take a lifestyle change or two combined with routine treatment, you can live relatively pain-free once again.

FAQs About Thumb Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about thumb pain.

Why does my thumb hurt from texting?

Texting can cause many types of pain. Pain at the ball of the thumb may be caused by repeated contact with buttons, especially if the buttons are small and require more force. Pain at the base of the thumb may be caused by inflammation of the tendon of the thumb from repeated use and stretching of the tendon. Long periods of use can also lead to cramps. These injuries all fit into the class of repetitive stress injuries.

How long does it take to recover from a sprained thumb?

This depends on what you do to help your thumb heal. A physician may recommend putting your thumb in a cast, splint, or bandage until it heals. It may take up to six weeks to heal. It is advisable to keep the splint on for the first three weeks and to perform strengthening exercises while alternating with the splint on. Follow your physician's advice if it differs.

What is trigger thumb?

Trigger thumb is a disorder where the connective tissue that encloses the tendon that allows the thumb to flex becomes thicker [5]. This causes the thumb to occasionally stick in the flexed position in such a way that it must be unflexed using the opposing hand. While no cause has been firmly identified, it is associated with repetitive motion over time.

Can repetitive strain injury be avoided?

Yes, repetitive strain or stress injuries can be avoided. It either takes training in techniques such that stress will not lead to damaged joints or tendons, or a well-designed device that will not direct stress at portions of the body not designed to support said stress [6]. Currently, the market for ergonomic devices designs items that help prevent repetitive stress injuries.

Why does my thumb hurt when I'm gripping?

Thumb pain while gripping can be caused by multiple injuries. The most common cause of thumb pain upon gripping is a simple thumb sprain. It involves overstretching or even partially tearing a thumb ligament. This pain manifests in stronger grips and may cause sharp pain when gripping.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Thumb Pain

  • Q.Let's examine your thumb a bit. What makes your thumb hurt worse?
  • Q.Do you repetitively use your thumb and wrist?
  • Q.Does this hand movement cause you pain? (This is known as Finkelstein test.)
  • Q.Are you currently raising a baby or young child?

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

Thumb Pain Quiz

Thumb Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced thumb pain have also experienced:

    • 20% Swollen Thumb
    • 5% Wrist Pain
    • 4% Difficulty Moving the Thumb
  • People who have experienced thumb pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Less Than a Week
    • 24% Over a Month
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced thumb pain were most often matched with:

    • 33% De Quervain's Tenosynovitis
    • 33% Thumb Arthritis
    • 33% Sprained Thumb
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having thumb pain

Thumb Pain Quiz

References

  1. Thumb Arthritis. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. ASSH Link.
  2. Dickson DR, Dickson CCL, Farnell R. Pain at the Base of the Thumb. The BMJ. 2015;350:h182. The BMJ Link.
  3. Infectious Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  4. Page C. Basal Joint Arthritis: How Therapy Can Help Thumb Pain. HSS. Updated November 4, 2009. HSS Link.
  5. Leversedge FJ, Rohde R. Trigger Finger. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated March 2018. OrthoInfo Link.
  6. Tips to Prevent RSI. NHS. Updated July 22, 2016. NHS Link.