Thumb pain is a very common complaint, especially as we start to get a bit older, but is there anything we can do for it? Hopefully if you are having some thumb pain, you will find some helpful tips in this post.
There are a few injuries and problems that can occur at the thumb, but today we’ll review some tips for arthritic related changes as it is the most common asked about and the most common seen in the office. Although arthritis is a natural aging process, the speed can vary for each person depending on genetics, previous injury or overuse, and overall state of health. Using these tips may help reduce the symptoms you have, or may help slow down the advancing process.
It’s important to note that arthritis pain is not solely related to the severity of the arthritis happening at the joint. In fact, at the thumb, it is common to see advanced arthritis in an X-ray without the person being aware they had issues beyond stiffness. So what is causing the pain? That’s a complicated question, but to minimize the length of this read and save that for another blog post, inflammation and irritation at the nerve receptors within the joint is responsible for the pain you can feel.
First, we can address the stability of the thumb as this can become an issue with any previous issue or advancing arthritis at the joints. Using a comfortable brace for the thumb can not only be helpful, but improve alignment of the joints further down the length of the thumb and reduce pressure with activities throughout the day.
The braces shown in the picture here are just a few that can be used and range from firm to soft neoprene. If you are noticing a change in the position or shape of the thumb, then a firmer brace may be helpful if tolerated. If it does not seem comfortable enough to wear a solid brace, using one of the softer ones for pain relief can also be helpful. Switching between the two may also be very helpful for some throughout the day. Wearing the firm brace for stability while performing heavier handed tasks and the softer one for pain relief throughout the day can be very beneficial.
Sometimes heat can help as well. Warm water soaks (washing dishes counts) or using paraffin wax therapy at home can help in pain control. If you have more chronic issues, or more advanced arthritis, investing in an affordable paraffin unit for home does well with a lot of patients.
There are a few things you can do with a hand knowledgable therapist in the clinic, but here are just a few to start on your own.
- Index Finger Lifts: As shown in the first picture, try and lift the index finger away from the other fingers. Hold for about 3 seconds and repeat 20x. Do that a few times a day.
- Joint Distraction: As shown in the second picture, hold your thumb behind the back and just allow both arms to relax. The weight of the grabbing arm will stretch the joint of the opposite thumb. Hold for a minute or two, repeat a few times throughout the day.
- Thumb Rolls: Looks silly, works well. As shown in the third picture, hold your thumb with the opposite hand and place the thumb knuckle on the top of the head. Roll the hand back and forth on the top of your head while holding the thumb. This helps mobilize the thumb joint. Do this for about a minute or two.
Just a few things here to get you started on relieving some thumb arthritis pain. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to consult with your physical therapist for more ideas specific to your particular thumb issues.