How to Relieve Thumb Joint Pain

How to Relieve Thumb Joint Pain

Your thumb is the most active joint in your hand. Because of this, thumb injuries are much more common than injuries to the other parts of your hand. If you injure your thumb it can be difficult to eat, write, type and you may struggle with participating in your recreational activities.

Thumb pain is a common symptom of osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or overuse injuries, so it is important to correctly diagnose your pain and develop an appropriate management plan.

In this blog I will explain common causes of thumb pain and show you how to ease it.

First, what causes thumb joint pain?

Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

As you age the cartilage that cushions and lubricates the thumb joint can start to break down and becomes less resilient. Cartilage is what makes the bones within the joint move across each other without friction. The process of your cartilage weakening is called Osteoarthritis. Once this process begins, it can create pain and stiffness into the thumb. It can also cause you to lose strength in your grip and a decrease in your thumb mobility.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is another form of arthritis that can impact your thumb joint. Its is an auto-immune disease that causes early wearing down of the cartilage in your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the thumb and can lead to pain, swelling, stiffness and redness into the thumb.

One distinguishing factor of the two forms of arthritis is that osteoarthritis typically impacts one thumb, whereas Rheumatoid arthritis more commonly impacts both thumbs at the same time.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that impacts the median nerve in your arm. This condition causes tingling, numbness, or burning pain in your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the outside of front of your palm.

Thumb injury or sprain (skier’s thumb)

The thumb is a commonly sprained joint. It typically occurs when you fall on an outstretched hand with your thumb in a forced extended position. This very commonly occurs in skiers when they fall and their pole forces their hand into this position. Thus, this injury is commonly referred to as skier’s thumb. When you suffer a skier’s thumb injury you can damage the ligaments in your thumb, causing pain and swelling.

Overuse of thumb (gamekeeper’s thumb)

Gamekeeper’s thumb is a condition that presents similarly to skier’s thumb. Gamekeeper’s thumb differs, however, as it usually comes on from overuse. It is named Gamkeeper’s thumb as it is common in those who care for and grip small birds in their hands. This requires them to use their thumbs frequently. It also occurs in those who have a job or hobby that involves constant repetitive movements of the thumb 

De quervain’s syndrome (texting thumb)

As use of mobile phones becomes more popular, this condition is becoming known as text or gamers thumb. It is characterized by pain at the base of the thumb near the thumb extensor tendons. You can see these tendons when you make a thumbs-up position.  . One predictive sign of De Quervain’s syndrome is if you bring your thumb up and you use your other hand to push it down against resistance it will hurt. Another sign is pain when you bend your thumb, wrap your fingers around it and bend your wrist towards the pinky side of your forearm.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome courtesy of Sport Medicine Clinic (Read the caption)

How to treat thumb pain

If your pain is caused by arthritis, overuse, or an over extension of your thumb joint, you want to start by removing aggravating activities for a temporary period of time to reduce pain. Once pain is reduced, you want to begin strengthening and mobility exercises for the thumb, wrist and hand. 

A Hand Therapist can treat many different hand conditions like the ones mentioned above. They focus on the treatment of injuries and conditions of the hand while optimizing its use. 

They can treat successfully:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Arthritis (rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis)
  • Burns
  • Mallet finger or baseball finger
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
  • Trigger finger
  • Volar plate injury
  • Repetitive strain injuries

Plus many more.

If you have thumb pain, soreness, reduced strength when grasping or pinching objects and limited range of motion then physiotherapy can help reduce the pain and improve your function.

If traditional physiotherapy exercises do not help, splints can stabilize the thumb joint so it doesn’t move in directions that are painful.

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome you can also try wearing a wrist splint at night. A wrist splint holds your hand in a neutral position to prevent it from bending when you sleep. Oftentimes, people with carpal tunnel syndrome wake up with symptoms due to bent-wrist position we tend to sleep in. 

Click the find a clinic near you button on this page to schedule an appointment today!

7 Ways to Use Your Flex Bar courtesy of Active Recovery Physiotherapy & Hand Clinic (Read the caption)


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Signs include stiffness, swelling, and tenderness in the base of your thumb. People with thumb arthritis usually have decreased strength when grasping or pinching objects.

Yes, studies have shown that massage can help reduce thumb pain.

Heat relaxes and helps lubricate the joints. It relieves muscle and joint stiffness. If you have swelling it’s best to use cold therapy to reduce the inflammation and swelling.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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