Thumb pain usually starts at its base but may go down to the wrist, and sometimes, to the forearm. Because of an intense pain in your thumb, the grip of your hand may get affected. You find it difficult to perform simple activities, like, turning the key of a lock or opening a jar. Even twisting of the wrist can give you a lot of pain and discomfort.
Causes and Characteristics of Thumb Pain
Pain in the thumb is commonly triggered due to weakening of the tendons that extend from the thumb to the wrist. This may happen after a major or minor injury to the thumb during an accident, or because of overuse of the thumb. Chronic form of thumb pain could be a warning sign for more serious health issues, like arthritis.
People above the age of 40 are prone to thumb arthritis. With increase in age, the ligaments and tendons of the thumb become thin and weak. It leads to deterioration of the cartilage present at the base of the thumb. As a result, friction between the adjoining bones increases and causes extensive damage to the thumb joint which makes it unstable and painful.
An injury related thumb pain starts suddenly and its intensity depends on the severity of the injury. On the other hand, the pain due to degeneration of the joint intensifies over a period of time. Initially, it is felt as a dull pain but later on, it becomes extreme. It tends to get aggravated with repeated use of the thumb and hand.
There are other accompanying symptoms such as, swelling, stiffness, and weakness in the thumb. Too much of pain and swelling restrict normal movements of the thumb as well as the wrist. If the nerves in the area get irritated, then numbness is felt at the back of the thumb and index finger.
Treatment for Thumb Pain
The three key objectives of the treatment are to reduce the thumb pain, improve the joint mobility, and provide stability to the weakened joint. It can be achieved in the following ways.
You can get relief from a mild pain by keeping the thumb in a resting position. In other words, if you stop using the affected thumb for the time being, then the pain will subside on its own.
A broken thumb or a dislocated thumb has to be kept in an immobilized condition with the help of a splint. It gives adequate support to the joint, positions the bones at the joint properly and thus relieves the pain. Depending on the severity of the condition, the doctors decide whether you should use the splint throughout the day or only during the night.
Anti-inflammatory medicines help in pain management. However, their effect is temporary and cannot resolve the actual problem. Pain killers, when used for long have several adverse effects. Thus, take these medicines only after consulting a doctor. Corticosteroid injections have similar effects and are used for treating a chronic pain in thumb and wrist.
Doctors recommend physical therapy for almost any kind of joint pain. It eliminates pain, swelling, and stiffness; and makes the joint flexible. It also adds strength and stability to it and protects it from any further injury. You can say that physical therapy resolves the thumb problem and also restores its normal functioning.
When all nonsurgical methods of treatment fail to show desired results, only then doctors suggest surgery. Moreover, if your thumb is badly impaired by pain and swelling, and has lost its strength, then again surgery is needed.
There are different types of surgeries for the treatment of various thumb problems. Usually, the surgeries involve repairing the damaged portion in the joint or fusing of the bones to add stability to the thumb or replacement of the joint. In general, hospitalization of the patient is not required for such surgeries.
Post-surgery, the thumb has to be kept in a splint or cast for six weeks. It is followed by physical therapy which helps to bring back the strength in the thumb. Normally, it takes around six months for the patient to fully recover from this kind of surgery.
Most of the time, chronic thumb pain requires more than one of these treatments. If you feel thumb pain soon after accidentally banging your hand, you can get rid of it with a simple home treatment. Place a of cold bandage or a few ice cubes wrapped up in a cloth on the painful site for 15 minutes. You will find that both the pain and swelling are gone.