Thumb joint pain may not seem like it would significantly affect your everyday life. After all, it’s just one, tiny joint. Performing simple tasks can prove quite difficult when our thumbs aren’t functioning properly, however.
There are several explanations as to why you may be experiencing joint pain in one or both of your thumbs. Here are four to consider:
Thumb joint pain may be a result of arthritis. As explained in a 2012 article published by online medical research site News Medical: “Arthritis develops when ligaments connecting the thumb to the wrist stretch out.” This eventually leads “to inflammation and pain.”
Titled “Loyola’s Hand Surgeons See More Patients with Thumb Arthritis,” the report discusses the rise in thumb arthritis among baby boomers, especially women. Dr. Terry Light, a hand surgeon and chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation of Loyola University Medical Center in Maryland, is quoted as calling the spike in such cases "a real epidemic."
“Thumb arthritis makes it painful to do many routine functions, such as writing, turning door knobs, using scissors, unscrewing jar tops, gardening and racket sports," continues the article. "As arthritis progresses, the hand becomes less useful and the pain becomes constant.”
2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome, also referred to as CTS, directly impacts the wrist, but also has lasting effects on the rest of the hand.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, explains that this chronic health condition “occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist.”
While women are more likely than men to develop CTS, anyone can potentially be affected by it, which is why it’s important to recognize the signs. One common symptom is thumb joint pain.
“Symptoms usually start gradually, with frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm of the hand and the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers,” states the NINDS. Furthermore, those affected may experience “decreased grip strength,” which “may make it difficult to form a fist, grasp small objects, or perform other manual tasks.”
Finger, hand and wrist injuries, such as fractures and sprains, are other possible causes of thumb joint pain.
In fact, as the NINDS explains in the aforementioned post: “trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; an overactive pituitary gland; an underactive thyroid gland; and rheumatoid arthritis” may lead to CTS.
4. De Quervain's Tendinosis
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)—an organization that provides leading information on musculoskeletal conditions—states: “De Quervain’s tendinosis occurs when the tendons around the base of the thumb are irritated or constricted. The word ‘tendinosis’ refers to a swelling of the tendons.”
A typical symptom for De Quervain’s tendinosis is “pain and tenderness along the thumb side of the wrist.” As a result, this could be another reason for your thumb joint pain.