Thumb Joint Pain – Prevention, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Thumb joint pain is aggravating and very painful. The joint is located below the thumb and above the wrist and pain occurs when trying to pinch or grip and may continue even when at rest. Opening a jar with a twist lid or picking up a coin can cause waves of pain in the whole hand, fingers and wrist.

Thumb Joint Pain Common Causes

Consider how many times this joint is used. The thumb is used to pick up objects, to open doors and turn the pages of a book. It is used in typing and texting. No wonder the joint starts to break down after a while. Overuse causes the cushion between the two bones at the joint to wear down and once bone is rubbing against bone, pain and inflammation starts. Injury to the thumb also results in thumb joint pain. Severe sprains and jams to the thumb can start the problem. Arthritis may be the culprit as it causes a weakness in bones resulting in deterioration of the joint. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is another cause of joint pain in the thumb. Typists use this joint continuously and this use causes nerves to compress in the wrist that extend to the thumb joint.

Thumb Joint Pain Symptoms

Pain is the most prevalent symptom. It radiates from the fingers to the wrist in severe cases, and is localized near the base of the thumb near the wrist in the fleshy palm of the hand. Pain sometimes is sharp in nature and occurs when turning a key, opening a door or any motion that causes the thumb to grip, pinch or rotate. Many times there is a loss of strength in the hand. The thumb may continue to ache even when resting or a bump may form over the joint to the point of affecting the appearance of the hand.

Several tests can reveal a problem with the thumb joint. An X-ray shows joint deterioration common with arthritis and also shows spurs or calcium deposits. Physical exams check for thumb joint painbumps or other deformities caused by the condition. The doctor may listen for grinding sounds while moving the thumb. Other tools that diagnose the problem are CT scans, MRI scans and bone scans.

Easy Home Treatments
Less severe thumb joint pain symptoms can be managed by applying alternating heat and cold. The heat eases pain and relaxes surrounding muscles. Application of cold also stops the pain. Put an ice pack on the joint for 15 minutes a few times a day or rub an ice cup over the palm area near the thumb for a few minutes. Follow with a heat pack or heating pad on the area for another 15 minutes. Some exercises may help mobility and pain. Hold the hand out with the palm up and lift the thumb as high as possible holding it up for five seconds. Hold the hand out with pinkie finger down and lift the thumb up holding it for five seconds. Hold the hand out with the palm forward and fingers up and rotate the thumb in circles in both directions. Start with five repetitions or rotations and work up to 20.

Medical Treatment
An anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed and to reduce inflammation and swelling that cause thumb joint pain. The doctor may start out with an over-the-counter ibuprofen for mild symptoms and progress to strong dose of prescription drugs if pain persists. Continued use of an anti-inflammatory can cause other problems within the body, so it is best if they are used on a temporary basis. The chances of a cure by taking the medication are very slim. A splint or brace can be used to immobilize the thumb. This allows the joint to rest and heal and may take six to eight weeks. Corticosteroid injections in to the joint are extremely painful, but do reduce inflammation and pain in several days. The relief is rarely permanent, lasting two to three months, and more injections may be necessary. There is a limit to how many injections can be given and the steroid can cause other medical problems like a rise in blood sugar. Another option is ultrasound treatment that increases the temperature of the tissue around the joint and helps it to heal.

Surgery is usually a last resort to stop pain. An arthroscopy may be used to repair the joint. An arthroscope is a miniature camera with a light inserted into the joint through a small incision. Tools are inserted through the arthroscope to make other incisions that may stop the pain. A fusion of the joint may be the surgical answer. The two bones on either side of the joint are fused to alleviate pain and make the joint more stable, but this also causes limited movement in the thumb. In an osteotomy the bones are cut to eliminate any deformities and they are repositioned correctly. Another option is a joint replacement where the old joint is either partially or fully removed and replaced with a graft taken from a tendon. Recovery from all surgeries usually takes 6 months or more with necessary physical therapy.

Thumb Joint Pain Prevention

Little can be done to prevent the thumb from being affected, but prevention techniques to avoid moving the thumb are possible. Replace door knobs that twist with levers that go up and down. Use a jar opener to open lids instead of using the hands. Avoid using the thumb whenever possible.

Medication or surgery may be necessary to stop the pain, and rest or wearing a splint or brace will keep pain to a minimum. Follow the doctor or physical therapist’s instructions to help reduce thumb joint pain.

Below is a video that explains possible treatment options for thumb joint pain.