How To Relieve Thumb Pain In Joint

Do You Get Thumb Joint Pain ?

Watch the video to learn what causes thumb joint pain, plus 3 easy tips to relieve thumb pain.

Table of Contents:


What Causes Thumb Pain In Joint?

Arthritis is the most common cause of thumb joint pain.

The thumb is a the most common arthritic joint in the upper body, and particularly at the carpometacarpal joint at the base of the thumb.

Although your thumb only has 2 knuckles, it actually has 3 joints:

  • The carpometacarpal (CMC) joint
  • The metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint
  • The interphalangeal (IP) joint

The carpometacarpal joint is where your thumb moves back and forth and side to side and it's the joint where osteoarthritis typically occurs the most.

Why does the CMC joint of the thumb commonly get arthritic?

We use our hands to grab and grip things throughout our lives, and that overuse over time can cause inflammation of that joint.

At the endstages of arthritis, the thumb CMC joint becomes stiff and doesn't move very well.

However, at the beginning stages of arthritis, it's actually hypermobile, meaning that it moves too much. Over time, that excessive movement can contribute to the wearing down of the joint surfaces.

So what are some things that you might find before thumb arthritis gets really bad?

Well, you often find stiffness in the joint above it, or the metacarpal phalangeal joint.

If you have stiffness at that metacarpalphalangeal joint, it's going to cause you to move excessively at the CMC joint.

How Do You Relieve Thumb Pain In Your CMC Joint?

Doing stretches for your MCP joint can help prevent or relieve CMC joint pain.

If you can move equally across those two joints in your thumb then, it's going to cause less thumb pain and less wearing down of the CMC joint.

How do you stretch your thumb MCP joint?

Use your opposite hand and grip around the CMC joint and the meaty part of your hand at the base of the thumb (the thenar eminance).

While stabilizing that area, gently bend your thumb back and forth at the MCP joint.

What Else Can You Do To Relieve Pain In Your Thumb Joint?

Doing self soft tissue mobilizations or trigger point therapy to some of the muscles around the thumb joint can help.

In particular, you want to work on the muscles at the base of the thumb.

There are a bunch of small little muscles around the base of your thumb, collectively referred to as your thenar eminance.

The muscles in your thenar eminance move your thumb toward your palm in order to help you grip.

One of the main muscles that causes pain in the thumb joint is the adductor pollicis.

The addcutor pollicis muscle can cause thumb pain in joint

The adductor pollicis lies between the metacarpals (shown above) of your thumb and index finger.

It moves the thumb CMC joint toward your palm and little finger to help you pinch, grip, and squeeze things.

If you use your other hand to squeeze the adductor pollicis muscle, it's probably going to be a little sore even if you don't have thumb pain.

However, if you do have thumb pain, pinching and holding pressure on the adductor pollicis for 2-3 minutes can help relieve your thumb pain.

Now, it still may hurt a little while you're squeezing it, but it should be one of those "hurts so good" or "hurts but feels good" types of pain where you know something good is going to happen as a result of doing it.

Adductor Pollicis Stretch To Relieve Thumb Pain

Additionally, doing exercises like spreading your hand out wide can help stretch the adductor pollicis and help maintain the mobility of your thumb CMC joint.

Brace For Thumb Joint Pain

I mentioned earlier that the thumb that carpo-metacarpal joint at the early stages of arthritis is hypermobile, meaning it moves too much.

So one thing you can do if you're having thumb joint pain is to wear a thumb spica brace or splint around the joint.

If you start to use a thumb brace at the earlier stages when you first start to have  thumb joint pain, it can help decrease how fast your arthritis gets worse and help prevent you from needing a thumb joint replacement.

Thumb Joint Replacement Surgery

When you have a thumb joint replacement, the surgeon takes a tendon and wraps it around the thumb to make a new artificial "joint".  However, you're going to need some pretty extensive therapy after having a thumb joint replacement, so if you can avoid the surgery, that's a better option.

Physical Therapy For Thumb Pain

Wearing a brace and doing the stretches and exercises above can help relieve thumb joint pain.

However, getting physical therapy for your thumb will likely help improve the pain faster, particularly if you work with a manual physical therapist who understands how the thumb joint works.

Physical therapy is more than just doing exercises, heat, and ultrasound on your thumb.

A specialist physical therapist like our therapists at More 4 Life can help you find the root cause of your thumb joint pain. That way, you can maintain your hand function and keep your thumb arthritis from getting worse.

If you'd like to meet with one of our specialist physical therapists to learn how we can help you, tap the button below to request an appointment.

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