The hand contains a number of complex joints; one part often affected by inflammation is the thumb. This article will discuss thumb pain.
The thumb is the first “digit”, or finger, of the human hand. Humans have opposable thumbs, which allow our hands to perform elaborate movements. Thumb pain occurs when the thumb suffers injury or inflammation. Since the thumb is in itself complex and capable of a wide range of motion, the causes of thumb pain are varied.
Types of Thumb Pain
Blackberry Thumb, as it is referred to, is also called ‘texting thumb’. Those mostly afflicted are today’s youth who text message constantly on small keypads, using their thumbs. Such keypads are undersized and the motion is excessive and unnatural. As a result, damage can occur in the ulnar collateral ligament.
Skier’s Thumb can also damage the ulnar collateral ligament. This ligament is large, and a frequently injured part of the thumb. A sprain in this ligament results in difficulty moving and gripping (as one would do using ski poles).
Injuries to the thumb (from physical trauma) often result in more serious or long lasting pain – up to several months depending on the severity of the injury. Again, typical injuries occur in the ulnar collateral ligament. Soft tissue injuries (such as those to ligaments) may result in pain that takes time and therapy to resolve.
Arthritis of the thumb is the most common cause of long-term pain in the thumb joint. As with other joints in the body, the thumb can be affected by arthritis. The result may be inflammation, visible swelling, stiffness, clicking or pain, depending on the type and severity of the arthritis.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome often causes thumb pain, in addition to numbness. Carpal tunnel pain is caused when the median nerve in the wrist, between the carpal bones and the transverse carpal ligament, is compressed. The muscles in the thumb (the thenar muscles) become numb. This numbness can also spread, affecting the first three fingers and much of the hand. Carpal tunnel is best treated with physiotherapy.
A broken thumb is both painful and common. The result of a broken thumb is pain, swelling and throbbing. Broken thumbs should be stabilized; they generally heal on their own.
What can be done to prevent thumb pain?
Many of the outlined causes of thumb pain are forms of repetitive stress or strain injuries. In light of this, individuals who engage in physically repetitive activities, such as athletes, tradespeople and computer workers, should maintain good posture when they work. Ergonomic workstations and tools should be used where possible, and regular breaks should be taken. Stretching and strengthening the hands can improve their resistance to injury. Protective gloves can be worn during sports.
When it comes to dealing with thumb pain, different routes may be taken. Some people opt for painkillers; conventional forms abound through doctors and drug stores; natural painkillers are found through naturopaths and health food stores. Physiotherapists can be of help with soft tissue injuries. Foods that reduce inflammation are beneficial. Surgery for thumb pain is not usually advised unless other avenues have been explored.