Wrestling with Thumb Pain

The human thumb is very special. It is estimated that 40-60 percent of human hand function depends on having a normal, healthy thumb. The thumb is unique for its ability to move in a variety of directions while also being strong to allow for gripping of big, heavy items. At the same time, the thumb requires dexterity to pick up light, delicate objects. It is such a valuable structure that surgeons may consider replacing a thumb with a toe if the thumb were to become severely injured or lost due to amputation.

The thumb needs to be flexible and yet stable. It is supported by soft tissue (ligaments). If these are lax (genetics) or become lax (stretch, trauma), pain and deformity can occur. Wear and tear (osteoarthritis) can occur as well in the bones of the thumb joint leading to debilitating pain.

Thumb pain can start at any age. The most common pain source is at the base of the thumb. It can occur after trauma but also with repetition. With the amount of time we spend on our phones today, there are increased reports of thumb pain related to texting and phone/computer related usage.

The best thing one can do for thumb pain is to work smarter not harder. Traditional strengthening exercises can make pain worse. Learning thumb stabilization exercises to address supporting the thumb for work can prolong joint degeneration. Taping techniques and various splints are available for managing day-to-day thumb pain.  Using adaptive devices to help open jars, floss teeth, or with washing dishes limits the stress on the thumb which will lead to improved function and ultimately allow for pain-free activity with all of life’s many activities.

If you need help with your thumb pain, call us at (402) 609-1750.

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