Skeletal diagram highlighting in red area of the thumb joint which is painful

Thumb Joint Pain: Damage or Degeneration of the Thumb Joint

The thumb joint is one of the most crucial joints in our hand and is responsible for a wide range of functions. From lifting, gripping, grabbing, pushing and most other hand movements, this joint is essential to almost all of our tasks in everyday life.

Damage or degeneration of the thumb joint can severely impact a patient’s quality of life, causing them to experience pain and discomfort in milder cases. But as the condition progresses the symptoms get significantly worse and can severely restrict mobility of the thumb and by extension, the whole hand.

Skeletal image of hand highlighting pain in the thumb jointpain in the thumb joint


Causes of Pain in the Thumb Joint Area

The thumb joint is one of the most stressed joints in the body. It is used in almost all movements involving the hands. Some of the more common factors that can lead to damage or degeneration of the thumb joint include:

  • Intense activity involving hands. Physical labours and office workers who spend a lot of time using their hands at work tend to overstress the thumb joint and can lead to increased risk of pain in the thumb joint. This is common in people working in IT, electricians and mechanics.
  • Prolonged repeated movement like prolonged use of a mobile phone has proven to increase the risk of developing pain in the thumb.
  • Accidentally overstretching the thumb joint beyond the natural range of movement can lead to increased stress on the joint. Spraining the thumb this way is most common in ball sports.
  • Injury or trauma can lead to fractures in the thumb joint that can lead to intense pain and discomfort.
  • Rupturing the side ligament of the thumb, also known to as ski thumb, which is particularly common in skiers.
  • Inherent genetic conditions can also lead to an increased risk of developing pain in the thumb joint. Tendonitis and rheumatic disease are known to increase the risk of the condition.
  • A highly acidic diet sometimes caused by high meat consumption can lead to leaching of calcium from the bones. This leads to weaker bones and can lead to an increased risk of damage. 
Person in ski gear wearing a wrist and hand supportPerson in ski gear wearing a wrist and hand support


Pain in the Thumb Joint Diagnosis

A medical professional (usually a GP or Physiotherapist) conducts a full physical examination of the affected joint. Sophisticated imaging technology like X-rays or ultrasounds are used to locate the part most affected.

The doctor can then advise on how much restriction of movement is required. A complete picture with as much information as possible allows the practitioner to recommend the most effective treatment path.


Prevention of Pain in the Thumb Joint

  • Lifestyle Changes

Incorporating some diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way in preventing the condition and its progression. Nutrition has a huge role to play in this.

Avoiding certain acidic foods like dairy products and excessive meat consumption can greatly improve bone density and help with preventing pain in the thumb joint. This is best done by talking to a GP or nutritionist/dietitian.

Recognising and avoiding repeated strenuous activity like prolonged mobile phone use (particularly with phones getting larger) can go a long way as a preventative measure.

Person holding a hula hoop doing thumb exercises

Treatment for the Pain in the Thumb Joint Area

Treatment for pain in the thumb depends entirely on the severity of the condition. A good guideline to follow can include: 

  • Prescribed Physiotherapy

Regular exercise can help strengthen the thumb to both prevent and treat pain in the thumb. The targeted muscle building can help restore mobility in progressed cases and alleviate symptoms, accelerating healing. Remedial massage can also be used to soothe irritation in the joint.

In cases of inflammation, cryotherapy or cold application is highly advised. Cold blankets and ice packs can prove effective in controlling swelling and providing relief. This is best done in conjunction with a physio.


  • Painkillers

In cases of thumb pain, when you are already treating it with other options, you can use anti-inflammatory pills, if directed by your doctor to help ease the symptoms. However this should not be done long term, and continued use of painkillers can lead to negative side effects and merely masks the pain.


Medical Thumb Braces & Supports

A medical thumb splint can be highly effective in both preventing and treating pain in the thumb.

Regular use of a medical brace like the RhizoLoc from Bauerfeind can reduce the stress on the thumb joint while you perform daily activities.

The breathable fabric makes it perfect for use through the day as well as sports and reduces the risk of injury due to overloading or straining.

Person wearing Bauerfeind rhizoloc thumb brace

The RhizoLoc utilises an adjustable anatomic splint, making it ideal for all treatment paths. This prevents any errant movement and provides much-needed stability to the thumb.

The brace has been designed to fit perfectly and encourage healthy proprioception, and is ideal for treatment at any stage of thumb joint pain and extremely comfortable for all day use.

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