Arthritis of the Thumb – Causes, Symptoms

pain in thumb

Every day, as you work, your hands and thumbs work with you. This also includes when you explore your smartphone nonstop!

In one study in Saudi Arabia, it was reported that 74 out of 387 participants who are smartphone addicts tested positive in a test called the Finkelstein test.

This test is used to measure and diagnose thumb and wrist pain.

But, for hardworking people, take note that overuse is not just the culprit for your thumb pain.

In this article, information about the other causes of sore thumbs and how you can treat them at home will be provided.

Thumb Carpometacarpal (CMC) Arthritis – Pain at Base of Thumb

Arthritis of the Thumb

1) Thumb Arthritis

Thumb arthritis is a thumb discomfort that stresses you as you do your daily activities. 

So, as you do your daily routine while having this arthritis, you might wear and tear your carpometacarpal joint or CMC joint.

Your CMC joint is the joint that helps your thumb move freely. So, if it is damaged, you will have some trouble getting on your gaming console for a while!

Also known as thumb basal joint arthritis, this form of arthritis is the most common cause of thumb pain and it occurs at the thumb base near your wrist. 

If you have thumb arthritis, you will have some trouble doing the following activities:

  • Getting your clothes on
  • Writing
  • Opening your water jars
  • Grasping some objects

Severe joint pain and hand swelling are some of the signs of this condition, and according to a study in Rhode Island, if you have thumb arthritis dropping items might become your top complaint.

Treatment and Management

Aside from being able to get some rest, the best way to manage thumb arthritis or basal joint arthritis is by using the following medications and support:

  • Topical and oral anti-inflammatories
  • Thumb joint splint
  • Cortisone injection

To diagnose thumb arthritis correctly, an x-ray would be of big help. You could  try out some joint health pills. Here are some of the ones we recommend. 

3) Thumb Injuries

An injury is a common cause of a sore thumb, and, in case of a hand injury, keep in mind that your thumb can be injured too.

When you feel extreme pain and swelling after having your hands injured, you can choose to see a medical doctor or make an appointment with a physical therapist as soon as possible because you might be having a broken thumb.

On the other hand, when you feel mild to moderate pain due to this injury, you can be experiencing damaged or stretched ligaments.

Treatment and Management

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, if your injury is mild, you would only be required to do ice compression, get some rest, and put on some bandages.

However, if your injury is serious, surgery and wearing a cast, along with proper physical therapy would be needed to improve the injuries.

3) Trigger Thumb

Also known as trigger finger or stenosing flexor tenosynovitis, this common cause of finger discomfort occurs at the palm side of your thumb, and you will know if you have this bone problem when you observe the following signs:

  • Clicking sound when bending or straightening the finger or the whole hand
  • Stiffness of thumb joint at the base of the finger 
  • The appearance of a painful nodule at the base of the thumb

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, trigger thumb can also be caused by overuse.

Treatment and Management

Some treatments and supports for this sore problem include:

  • Use of a hand or finger splint
  • Cortisone injection
  • Search or do a stretch therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory pills

Often, most patients with trigger thumbs may recover in no time without any surgery. However, if there is severe pain, a procedure called trigger thumb surgery would be needed.

4) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As one of the pinched nerve conditions, patients with carpal tunnel syndrome may usually feel some numbness and tingling sensation not just in the thumb but also in the index, middle, ring fingers, and/or the whole hand.

According to the American Family Physician, around 6% of adults in the United States can experience this sore thumb and usually, women are more at risk of acquiring it.

For severe cases, patients would also feel the burning sensation throughout their whole affected hand and arm. 

Generally, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs because the median nerve of a patient is inflamed and aside from the burning sensation and numbness, other signs and symptoms of this sore thumb include the following:

  • Decreased grip strength
  • Sharp pain when lifting the hands and arms
  • Difficulty to perform fine motor movements

Take note that when you have carpal tunnel syndrome, this could be a sign of underlying conditions like the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cysts tumors in the wrist
  • Diabetes or other metabolic disorders
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Overactive pituitary gland

If you have this syndrome, make an appointment with a medical doctor or seek immediate medical care as soon as possible.

A medical professional will give proper advice and can determine if you also have the underlying conditions stated in the information above.

Treatment and Management

Patients with mild or moderate carpal tunnel syndrome may undergo a nerve test called Tinel’s sign and those who test positive to this may do the following supports and treatments:

  • Thumb splint
  • Cool packs
  • Search and do some stretch exercises
  • Anti-inflammatory pills
  • Corticosteroid injections

There is also carpal tunnel surgery in case the nerve and cartilage fragility is serious.

5) De Quervain’s Tendonitis

Also known as De Quervain tenosynovitis or “gamer’s or mommy’s thumb”, this problem is usually caused by an inflamed tendon or irritated tendon.

Moreover, these inflamed and fragile tendons occur at the thumb side of the wrist, and this condition could be causing the following signs and symptoms:

  • Pain and swelling in the wrist
  • Cracking or popping sound
  • Difficulty making a fist
  • Difficulty grasping objects

According to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, this irritated tendon condition is common among patients between 30-50 years of age.

Moreover, it is normal for women to have their tendons injured, especially after giving birth.

Treatment and Management

For patients with De Quervain tendonitis, the following treatments and supports may be considered to improve the problem:

  • Cortisone injections
  • Wrist brace
  • Anti-inflammatory pills and creams

For those who want to bring back their normal hand movements using surgery, De Quervain Release surgery may also be done.

Final Thoughts

Indeed, thumb discomforts are due to many factors and not just simply because you are overusing them. 

Moreover, different sore thumb conditions come with different signs and symptoms.

However, treatments and support would always include the use of support splints and anti-inflammatory medications.

Lastly, most sore thumb conditions can be treated at home but for those who want to recover faster, surgeries can also be done.