Thumbs Up? – Thumb Pain

Hand pain is one of the more overlooked areas of the body for pain.  When it comes down to it, a lot of us can usually get by fairly well if one of our hands has some pain because it rarely affects our ability to get around, and there’s only so many tasks that require the use of both hands.  If the hand that’s affected is our dominant hand it is definitely harder, but even then we can usually do enough with our other hand.  When hand pain persists, or when we rely on our hands for a lot of our daily activities, hand pain becomes much more debilitating. Thumb pain is one of the most common sources of hand pain, and gets much more common as we age.

Thumb pain is usually associated with arthritis, but can be related to tendinitis as well.  Either way, the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that make up the thumb aren’t able to do what we ask them to do.

Thumb pain will typically lead to issues with gripping (turning door knobs or opening jars), pushing (pushing yourself up from a chair to stand), and fine motor skills (turning a key, buttoning a shirt, or using a phone).  For certain people, these may only happen a couple times a day, but for many of us these things are happening constantly, and we need our thumbs to behave.  So what do we do?

  • Thumb mobilization – The thumb itself has a few joints that affect it, but one in particular (carpometacarpal joint, pictured in this article) is a common area where arthritis and pain will develop.  Thumb mobilization (pictured here) can help alleviate the pain quite a bit.  Try 5-10 second holds for 5-10 reps 1-2 times a day.  A word of caution – if your thumb or joints are typically too loose, this may lead to more pain, which means you’d likely benefit more from…
  • Isometrics – Isometrics refer to a muscle contraction without movement.  With the thumb, we can easily perform isometrics by taking a couple fingers in the opposite hand and simply pressing them against the thumb while trying to hold the thumb in place (here is an example).  For the thumb, perform 5-10 second holds at time for 5-10 reps, and use as much force as you comfortably can without causing pain.  Try pushing in 4 directions: on nail, on the left and right side of the nail, and on the pad. Isometrics are a useful way to build strength, and are a great option to reduce pain as well.  These can be done multiple times a day, but start with 2-3 rounds to see how you respond.

Some other options for some quick relief are heat or cold.  For the thumb, it’s pretty easy to use a hot or cold pack, but an option that people often like is submerging the hand in either warm or cold water for 5-15 minutes.  This can be done as needed.

When it comes to thumb pain, it’s both easy and hard to ignore.  Unless you’re actively using your hand, it often doesn’t impact your day, but there are so many things we need our thumbs to do.  If you’re having trouble with thumb pain, seek out a physical therapist or occupational therapist. They have the knowledge and tools to get you back to doing what you love.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.

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