Relieving Thumb Pain

As we age, our bodies may start to ache occasionally and some parts of the body have more aches and pains than others. Wrist, thumb and hand pain are common complaints we hear as physical therapists at Life’s Work Physical Therapy. Our blog this week will focus on thumb pain and one of the most common causes, arthritis of the thumb.

The thumb is one of our most important digits. We use it so often for daily functions such as writing, gripping, grasping activities, and life functions like buttoning a shirt, tying our shoes, computer keying and teeth flossing. When we have thumb pain, the easiest of life functions become a painful chore.

Thumb pain is the most common pain found in the hand. It is typically located at the base of thumb, the carpometacarpal joint. It most often occurs from arthritis of the thumb where the cushioning cartilage of the thumb wears thin. This can be the results of trauma or injury to the thumb or can be in association with arthritis found in the rest of the body. Common risk factors for thumb pain from arthritis include: being female, being over the age of 40, having prior or current injury to the thumb, performing a sport or job with high demands on the thumb joint, having hypermobile joints or malformed joint or systemic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.  Diagnosing thumb arthritis is performed with a physical examination by your physical therapist or doctor and can be confirmed with an X-ray. The X-ray shows the health of the bone and also growth of any bone spurs.

Arthritis may lead to swelling, stiffness and pain with daily tasks, and sometimes a red or enlarged looking joint at the base of the thumb. In physical therapy, common treatments for thumb arthritis include joint mobilizations to decrease stiffness and swelling, splinting, strengthening of the hand muscles, activity modification, ergonomics consultation, and home exercises. If symptoms to do abate with physical therapy, sometimes we recommend consultation with a medical provider for medications, corticosteroid injections and very rarely, surgery. In most cases, thumb arthritis can be treated conservatively with physical therapy and lifestyle modifications.

If you are experiencing thumb pain, please contact your physical therapist to schedule an evaluation.