Causes of Thumb Pain - Brace Direct

Causes of Thumb Pain

The thumb is an often overlooked champion of the hand, allowing us to make up to half of our daily physical endeavors. Its purpose should not be underestimated; unfortunately, its absence or malfunction will detrimentally affect how we interact with our environment. 

There are various factors associated with aching thumbs. Recognizing and remedying them quickly is paramount in maintaining a comfortable experience. To discover more on this subject, the following provides an in-depth exploration into the prevalent thumb pain causes.

The Main Causes of Thumb Pain

thumb pain

When experiencing prolonged thumb discomfort, paying attention and determining an underlying cause is essential. To better understand this issue, read for more information on potential thumb pain causes.

Trigger Thumb

The FPL- Flexor Pollicis Longus is a tendon attached to your thumb, making flexing or bending it possible. The tendon could get stuck in the thumb pulley, an error that causes the thumb to lock in place. As a result, you’ll experience swelling, stiffness, inflammation, or pain. This condition is called trigger thumb.

There’s no substantial proof explaining why this error occurs, but the trigger finger is one of the most common hand/thumb pain causes. However, you may be predisposed if you often perform complex tasks that involve hard pinching or gripping or have pre-existing conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diabetes.

Treatment Options for Trigger Thumb

Often, discomfort from trigger thumb resolves itself without the need for medical intervention. Doctors prescribe treatment for Trigger Thumb based on the severity of the condition and symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • Wearing a Splint
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery
  • Hand and thumb exercises

Break or Fracture on the Thumb

Heavy gripping, punching or hard pinching are the leading causes of breaking or fracturing of the thumb. Other less common causes of a broken thumb include falls, excessive thumb twisting, and blunt force trauma.

The injury causes excruciating pain in the thumb. Depending on the damage to the thumb, one may also experience pain extending to the wrist and forearm.

Treatment Options for Broken Thumb

No ice or home remedy can fix a broken thumb. Therefore, aim to seek professional treatment to gain fast relief and access the necessary treatment to heal your thumb. Top treatment options for a fractured thumb include:

  • Installing a temporary cast
  • Surgery
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medication

It takes about two to eight weeks for a broken thumb to heal and about three to four months to regain full function.

Thumb Arthritis

hands massing base of thumb in pain

Age and daily activities are the leading causes of thumb arthritis. This condition occurs when the thumb joint or cartilage experiences tear and wear. Other possible reasons for thumb arthritis include osteoarthritis and thumb injury.

Treatment Options for Thumb Arthritis

The main treatment options for this condition include:

  • Anti-inflammation treatment
  • Wearing a special thumb ring brace or splint
  • Steroid injections
  • Surgery
  • Thumb exercises

Note that Arthritis is a progressive condition. Treatment can relieve pain and gain a bit of function. However, as time advances, the symptoms may worsen.

Skier’s Thumb

Skier’s Thumb happens when you sprain or injure your thumb damaging the ligaments. Falls where one lands on their thumb or intense contact in sporting activities are the common causes of Skier’s thumb. Besides thumb pain, Skier’s thumb symptoms are stiffness and swelling.

Treatment Options for Skier’s Thumb

In cases where the ligaments on the thumb aren’t torn, home remedies like resting the thumb and using ice packs may help reduce pain and swelling. 

Other intensive treatments include:

  • Wearing a sprained wrist brace or elastic bandage to contain swelling
  • Wearing a temporary cast to immobilize the hand and keep it elevated
  • Surgery to rectify the tear to the ligament

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

hand with a thumb slint on

The Carpal Tunnel is a narrow space about an inch wide in the wrist. Sometimes, a nerve may get jammed or pinched in this area, an error that is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If this happens, you may experience tingling or numbness in the middle, ring, index fingers, or thumb.  

When the symptoms worsen, one may experience burning pain, weak muscles, inflammation, or electric shock-like sensations in the thumb. You may also have difficulty performing fine motor functions and decreased gripping strength.

Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The best treatment for most patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome includes:

  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Taking painkillers
  • Thumb stretching exercises
  • Wearing a wrist brace
  • Carpal tunnel surgery

Potential causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may be a cyst or tumor, Rheumatoid Arthritis, repetitive hand movements, wrist sprain/fracture, diabetes, hyperactive Pituitary gland, or underactive Thyroid.

Ganglion Cysts

A Ganglion Cyst is when synovial fluid collects near the joints in the hands and wrists, causing pain and discomfort. Synovial fluid is a natural lubricant present in most joints across the body.

If a ganglion cyst develops near the thumb, there’ll be a visible lump on the skin and possible pain experienced during joint movement.

You will likely develop a Ganglion Cyst if your thumb has been injured or do constant movements using your thumb.

Treatment Options for Ganglion Cysts

Effective treatment options for a Ganglion Cyst include:

  • Surgery to remove the cyst
  • Putting on a brace to limit wrist/thumb mobilization, thus shrinking the cyst
  • Draining the cyst using a syringe

Ganglion cysts can disappear without treatment. The doctor will only recommend treatment if the patient is experiencing difficulty moving the affected area or has a lot of pain.

DeQuervain’s Tendonitis

Tendonitis is a condition that involves inflammation of the tendons (fiber-like cords) that attaches muscles to the bone. The thumb has plenty of tendons attached to the wrist. This finger’s position on the hand makes it more vulnerable to Tendonitis. The tendons may also rub against each other a lot, causing friction, which may result in Tendonitis.

DeQuervain’s Tendonitis shares some similarities with Trigger Finger. The only difference is that in DeQuervain’s Tendonitis, inflammation occurs on the tendons, while Trigger Finger is when there’s inflammation on the tendon sheath. Inflammation on the thumb tendons, thus, may result in pain.

Treatment Options for DeQuervain’s Tendonitis

Telltale signs of DeQuervain’s Tendonitis include difficulty clenching or grasping items. One may also feel pain and develop swelling on the wrist area close to the thumb. Effective treatment options for DeQuervain's Tendonitis include:

  • Physical therapy or tendonitis exercises
  • Steroid injections
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Splinting
  • Surgery

The leading cause of DeQuervain’s Tendonitis isn’t clear. However, injury and repetitive movements of the wrist can lead to inflammation of the tendons.

When to See a Doctor

doctor examining patients hand

It’s easy to assume that the pain will disappear or convince yourself that your thumb doesn’t need medical attention. However, thumb pain is a severe issue that should be taken seriously.

Wondering when to see a doctor? Seek professional attention for pain in your thumb if:

  • You can’t move your thumb
  • You’re having trouble performing simple tasks like griping items or making a fist
  • Your thumb is swollen, stiff, or tender
  • Your thumb appears crooked or bony
  • There’s recurrent spiking pain in your thumb

Thumb Pain Diagnosis

Not every thumb pain that takes you to the hospital requires surgery. Most treatment options simply require minimally invasive treatment. But first, the doctors must assess your medical history, symptoms, or lifestyle to determine what the issue causing thumb pain could be.

To diagnose the source of thumb pain, ideal options the doctors use to acquire accurate results include undergoing the following:

Types of Thumb Pain Treatment

Upon careful assessment, the doctors will decide whether the pain in your thumb is mild or severe. Depending on the test results, doctors will recommend a treatment option that will either clear the symptoms or help manage the pain.

The viable treatment options for thumb pain include home remedies and professional treatment. Here’s a closer look.

Home Remedies

Overworking the thumb, soft tissue injury, and over-extension of the thumb joint may be painful, but these are considered simple issues that will resolve using common home remedies. Popular remedies in this category include:

hands adding ice to an ice pack

Applying an Ice Pack to the Affected Area 

Applying a cold compress is beneficial to alleviate the irritating pain associated with the affected area. The soothing sensation of the ice pack will not only calm the nervous system but also reduce inflammation, leading to a welcoming relief of discomfort and distress.

Physical Therapy

Individuals can effectively increase their thumb flexibility and promote optimal circulatory flow by doing simple physical exercises. Not only does this aid in alleviating pain severity, but it can also contribute to the overall strengthening of the thumb muscle. 

As a home remedy tactic, this technique has become well-renowned for its efficacy in relieving any discomfort connected to thumb ailments.

Putting on a Splint

A splint is a specialized garment constructed to support and stabilize the hand's thumb. It works by enveloping the nerves and restricting motion, serving as an effective way to soothe pain and facilitate healing. The features of the splint make it an ideal choice for individuals seeking relief from discomfort caused by injury or overexertion in their daily activities.

Taking Over-The-Counter Pain Medication 

Over-the-counter pain medications can benefit those experiencing joint and nerve soreness during healing. Your physician may recommend an adequate dose regimen to ensure optimal healing. 

Prescription pain relief can be a helpful remedy while the thumb is mending, providing short-term safety and comfort during such a trying time.

Applying Essential Oils 

The use of essential oils serves a calming purpose, which can be of great benefit in addressing swelling as well as relieving the pain associated with thumb injuries. Well-researched and acknowledged oils for this purpose include:

  • Lavender oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Roman and German chamomile oil
  • Yarrow oil
  • Rosemary oil

Each of these has been shown to have a positive effect in promoting simple functions after injury.

Medical Treatment

If the cause of thumb pain is severe and home remedies aren’t effective, a medical doctor’s input is crucial. Medical treatment varies depending on the source and reason for thumb pain. Common treatments you will get at the hospital include:

Intense physical Therapy

As a practical medical approach for easing your thumb pain, intense physical therapy promises a trained professional performing complex exercises to promote your thumb's full functionality and reduce discomfort. 

It is a positive solution that may help you achieve restored mobility and flexibility with notable results.

Steroid Injections

The nurse employs a syringe to administer corticosteroids directly into the tendon or nerve in the thumb, which is affected by this condition. A few separate doses may be needed to attain optimal outcomes.

Topical Analgesics

Analgesics work the same as essential oils. The only difference here is that topical analgesics have a soothing effect but also possess intense pain relieving agents to stop thumb pain. Analgesics cannot be accessed over the counter without a prescription.


Surgery becomes necessary when all other remedies fail to be of assistance or the damage done is too significant to ignore. By performing surgery, it is possible to repair any damage done to the thumb, such as its joint or tendon. 

This procedure offers the only hope for recovery for those experiencing severe thumb injuries.


hands applying cream

Here are some of the commonly asked questions about the causes of thumb pain.

Why does my thumb hurt from writing?

Experiencing pain and difficulty when using your hand to write or text on your phone may happen due to habit. If you spend much time performing the same tasks, you place repetitive stress on your thumb. 

Therefore, one may experience tear and wear or overstretch, causing problems like thumb pain, cramps, inflammation, and limited mobility.

Can thumb pain be cured?

Most thumb pain causes are treatable and curable. However, in cases where the patient is experiencing consistent pain due to incurable underlying conditions like Arthritis or Osteoporosis, the solutions prescribed by the doctor are aimed at managing and slowing the progression of the disease.

Thumb Pain Causes: Bottom line.

There are several issues to blame for thumb pain. Home remedies may help find relief, but expert medical treatment is how you can avoid worsening symptoms and be safe.

Conservative treatment is the best route to take if you have an injury to your thumb. See a doctor if the pain persists a week or two after exploring home remedies. A hand specialist can offer crucial information regarding what’s ailing you and provide an accurate diagnosis to help identify the best treatment plans.

Above is everything you need to know about thumb pain causes and viable treatment options. Contact us for access to different types of quality medical braces.