Thumb Pain

FAQs on Thumb Pain


Thumb pain may result from repetitive use, sprains, injury, or disorders, such as arthritis of the thumb joint. Often we mistake symptoms of thumb pain for hand or wrist problems and leave it untreated. Thumb pain may sap the vitality of the hand preventing gripping and picking up things. Seek treatment if the painful condition becomes persistent.

What is thumb pain?

Thumb pain refers to dull, achy, severe, intermittent, or continuous pain sensation affecting your thumb. Damage to thumb joint and ligaments are the most possible causes.

The thumb sprain is caused by force pushing it beyond its normal range of motion or backward. It damages ligaments in the thumb and pain occurs. Similarly, the joint is inflamed or damaged due to injury or arthritis and results in pain. Muscles and nerves in the area also contribute to painful conditions.

Thumb pain symptoms vary from patient to patient. It may be constant or intermittent, mild or severe and worsening with thumb movement. It may also be referred pain radiating from hand, wrist, or finger disorders.

What are the symptoms of thumb pain?

  • Sharp, dull, achy, stabbing, throbbing, mild, or intense pain in the thumb
  • Traumatic symptoms, such as bruising, if the cause is traumatic injury
  • Swelling in the thumb base
  • Burning or tingling sensation in the thumb
  • Difficulty in moving the thumb and wrist
  • Neuromuscular symptoms, such as numbness, weakness, and potential paralysis
  • Possible palm pain
  • Pain worsens with thumb movements
  • Pain even while resting
  • Restricted ability to grip or carry things, perform dexterity activities

What are the structures involved in thumb pain?

The functional responsibilities of the thumb make it susceptible to injury and pain. Being the key pressure maker during gripping or holding, the finger exerts power and becomes subject to force.

The thumb comprises of two phalanges connected by palm-side swinging joints. The first metacarpal bone connects carpometacarpal joint with the carpus. It also has additional sesamoid bones. Extrinsic and intrinsic muscles provide support, motion, and stability to the thumb bones. The carpometacarpal joint is central to the functioning of the thumb. Apart from these, there are many smaller muscles, tendons, and nerves are attached to the thumb structure.

Any injury, damage, or disease impacting these structures cause thumb pain.

What are the causes of thumb pain?

  • Thumb pain due to injury related to bone fractures, blunt force, sprains, stress fractures, bite or sting injuries, overuse, pushing backward, tendon rupture
  • Thumb pain due to nerve compression
  • Arthritis-linked inflammatory in the thumb
  • Gout and cellulitis in the thumb
  • Bone infections, such as osteomyelitis
  • Muscle infections, such as dermatomyositis
  • Tendinitis in the thumb
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dequervain’s Tenosynovitis
  • Raynaud’s disease impacting the thumb
  • Carpometacarpal joint disorder or arthritis
  • ‘Jammed’ thumb syndrome
  • Skier’s thumb syndrome
  • Frequent use of thumb to press buttons to write text messages
  • Trigger thumb syndrome
  • Thumb pain due to linked disorders, such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, peripheral artery disease,

Who are at the risk of thumb pain?

Thumb plays an important part in any type of activities involving hand. However, those requiring frequent and intense gripping activities or participating in sports, such as ski sports and ball sports, requiring extreme thumb use face the increased risk of thumb pain. Those making text message or typing incessantly also face the menace.

When to see a doctor?

If the thumb pain worsens or swelling remains for a few days, contact your doctor.

How is thumb pain diagnosed?

Doctors examine symptoms and enquire about medical conditions. X-ray is used to verify the possibility of thumb bone fractures.


What are the treatment methods available for thumb pain?

  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory medicines help reduce swelling and pain while muscle relaxant gels provides relief from painful symptoms.
  • Self-care: Avoid activities that may worsen pain or put stress on the thumb. Apply heat pads or ice pads regularly. Give your thumb ample rest until the pain comes down.
  • Adaptive devices: Use splints to provide rest to your thumb and wrist and keep them stress free. Use various adaptive devices, such as foam covers, modified hand tools, jar openers, and others designed for use by those with restricted hand strength.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical and occupational therapies are known to assist post-injury rehabilitation and restoration of thumb strength. It focuses on functional mobilization through exercises and customized modalities. Acupuncture, acupressure, workouts, iontophoresis, and ultrasound are used in reducing inflammation and encouraging thumb injury healing.
  • Epidural Injections: Corticosteroid and local anesthetic medications inhibit inflammation and provide semi-permanent pain relief.
  • Surgery: Surgical treatment of thumb pain is not required unless there are multiple breaches in ligaments or bones.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Ateshian, G., Ark, J., Rosenwasser, M., Pawluk, R., Soslowsky, L., Mow, V. Contact areas in the thumb carpometacarpal joint. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 1995;13:450–458.

Colditz, J. The biomechanics of a thumb carpometacarpal immobilisation splint. Journal of Hand Therapy. 2000;13:228–235.

Poole, J., Pellegrini, V. Arthritis of the thumb basal joint complex. Journal of Hand Therapy. 2000;13:91–107

Reglar, P., James, G. Thumb pain in physiotherapists: a preliminary study. British Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation. 1999;6:505–509

Regan WD, et al. Elbow and forearm. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 19.

Badia A, et al. “Total joint arthroplasty in the treatment of advanced stages of thumb carpometacarpal joint osteoarthritis”. The Journal of Hand Surgery 31 (10): 1605–14.Barron OA, Glickel SZ, Eaton RG. Basal joint arthritis of the thumb. J Am Acad Orthop Surg 2000;8:314-23.