For being a small joint, having pain or issues in our thumbs can cause us big problems!
Our thumbs help us grip, and grab in fine ad gross motor tasks. From carry a baby seat to holding your hand open in a baseball mitt, to knitting and chopping dinner, you don’t realize how important you thumbs are until you have thumb pain that prevents you from doing these things comfortably.
Even though it’s a small area, your Physiotherapist and Massage Therapist take your complaints seriously. Like all injuries and pains in the body your physiotherapist will take a thorough history of our health, habits, the onset of the issue and how it is presenting. They will take you through movements and special tests to rule in and rule out various issues and types of tissues.
Like many issues in the body thumb issues and pains can from the joints (where the bones meet), the tendons, the muscles, and the ligaments. In some cases it can be more than one thing contributing to the pain.
Chronic Thumb Pain / Issues
With chronic or ongoing thumb pain Physiotherapists often look to the joints or the tendons as a primary culprit.
Osteoarthritis (OA) – the carpometacarpal joint of the thumb can cause ongoing thumb issues. As Physiotherapists we look to patterns of pain. The thumb joint may have a squaring type of change and the joint line may be tender to the touch. Your physiotherapist will work with you on your goals to help you protect the joint, manage your pain and get you closer to activity. Having osteoarthritis does not mean you cannot improve your pain.
Tendinosis – The tendons of the thumb connect the muscles to the bone. They act as a pulley system. These tendons over time and with repetitive loads can wear and thicken. Although less common than other areas of the body this can be an issue in the thumb. Your physio or massage therapist may suggest working on these tendons and the surrounding muscles. They may provide you with exercises to strengthen the area as well. Sometimes modifying what you do can also be part of the trick.
Trigger Thumb – Having the thumb catch and get stuck during movement can be painful, or not. When you move your thumb into a fist and then try and open it it may catch or click. For some people, they have to use their other hand to open the thumb back up. This can also happen in the fingers and is aptly named “trigger finger”. This is also known as “stenosing tenosynovitis”. The tendons move through the tendons sheaths and a series of pulleys. In trigger thumb or finger, an enlarged flexor tendon gets trapped or caught up in the pulley system. The area of entrapment may be closer to the palm than the area that gets “stuck”. This area of entrapment can be painful, but is not always. Your physiotherapist or massage therapist will give you treatment depending on how this presents and how it is affecting your daily life.
Like most things, these painful thumb issues are best treated early. If you have been having thumb pain that is new, not going away, is impacting your activities of enjoyment, or is worsening, it is helpful to have a thorough physiotherapy assessment. If the issue has been there for longer or there has been an increase in pain, physiotherapists are also a part of your team.
Our next blog post will talk about more acute, or sudden injuries of the thumb.
Contact us at our Oakville Physio, Massage, Yoga, and foot clinic to book with one of our trained practitioners.