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Why Does My Thumb Hurt All of a Sudden?

Why Does My Thumb Hurt All of a Sudden?

With the thumb involved in over half of our hand movements, pain in the area can be especially concerning. Imagine you’re going about your day when a sharp pain shoots through your thumb. This could be a signal from your body that something might be wrong.

Now, you may ask yourself – why does my thumb hurt all of a sudden? Is it seriously concerning? Well, this blog post explores different causes of sudden thumb pain, diagnosis, and prevention so you know exactly what to do about it!

Fivali A Man Suffering Thumb Pain - Guide

 

Why Does My Thumb Hurt All of a Sudden?  

Thumb pain hinders everything from gripping objects and typing to even using your phone. Here’s a list of possible causes that cause this sudden discomfort:

1. Thumb Injury

Thumb injuries are perhaps the most common cause of sharp, sudden thumb pain. These injuries often result in pain, swelling, fractures, or even bruising. Most commonly caused during sports or falls, the injuries may also lead to a dislocated thumb joint. If the thumb is broken, you may experience severe pain or throbbing sensation radiating from the fracture site.

2. Arthritis

The wear and tear of the thumb joint cartilage leads to osteoarthritis, resulting in pain, stiffness, and reduced motion. Arthritis in thumb joints is often seen with advancing age. Typically, thumb arthritis causes pain at the base of the thumb, which connects to the wrist. The affected joint becomes swollen and very sensitive to touch.

3. Tendon Issues

Tendon issues, such as tendonitis, may also result in sudden thumb pain caused by the inflammation of tendons that connect the thumb’s muscles and bones. Most commonly, tendonitis arises from repetitive motions or overuse, leading to sharp or aching pain, swelling, and tenderness in and around the area.

4. Tendon Sheath Problems

Besides tendonitis, tendon sheath problems might also cause thumb pain. For instance, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis[1] causes pain and inflammation on the thumb side of the wrist, especially when moving or applying pressure to the area. This is caused by inflammation or thickening of the sheath surrounding the tendons extending to the thumb.

5. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome[2] is yet another cause of throbbing thumb pain resulting from a pinched nerve within the wrist's carpal tunnel. This leads to numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. Initially, the symptoms may be mild and often worsen at night. Some even experience electric shocks in their thumbs.

6. Infection

An infection, such as a felon,[3] may also cause thumb pain due to the inflammation triggered by the body’s response to the infection. Typically, a felon results from a puncture wound or can develop secondary to paronychia (skin infection around the nail). As bacteria enter through the wound, they invade the soft tissue of the thumb, causing thumb pain and swelling.

7. Gout

A gout is a form of arthritis that leads to intense inflammation stemming from the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in the joint of the thumb. This discomfort may also affect the tendons near the joint, making your thumb red, swollen, and extremely painful. Gout can flare up intermittently and may even affect the same joint multiple times.

 

How are Hand Conditions Diagnosed?

Oftentimes, a sudden pain in the thumb subsides on its own. However, if the pain persists, it’s best to take medical advice to diagnose and treat the underlying condition properly. Here’s how to diagnose what causes your thumb to hurt all of a sudden:

✧ Review Recent Activities

To diagnose the condition that causes thumb pain, your healthcare professional will ask about any recent activities that might have strained your thumb. They might review activities like typing, texting, or sports to identify any acute injuries causing the pain.

✧ Symptom Examination

Additionally, your healthcare provider will physically examine the symptoms you’re experiencing, like swelling, redness, or collection of pus. They might also inquire about the intensity and duration of your pain or any unusual symptoms you may be facing.

✧ Home Remedies

Minor injuries where the ligament is intact may heal without seeing a doctor. Before you go for a diagnosis, you might try the following home remedies:

  • Rest: Rest your hand for as long as possible
  • Ice: Apply ice every 10 minutes to the affected area
  • Compression: Wear an elastic bandage to control swelling
  • Elevation: Elevate your hand above heart level to relieve pain

When Seeing a Doctor

If the pain stays longer than a few days, it’s time to visit a doctor. After taking your medical history, some possible tests they might advise include:

✧ Physical Examinations

  • Finkelstein’s Test:

If the pain persists, your doctor may perform a Finkelstein test. During this test, you bend your thumb across your palm and fold your fingers over the thumb. Then, you bend your wrist towards your pinky finger. If you experience pain during this, it indicates you have de Quervain tenosynovitis.

  • Tinel’s Sign and Phalen’s Test:

Both Tinel’s sign and Phalen’s test may be performed to check for carpal tunnel syndrome. During Tinel’s sign, if tapping over the median nerve in your wrist produces a tingling sensation, it suggests carpal tunnel syndrome.

Alternatively, Phalen’s test involves hand movements that can cause numbness or tingling, indicating carpal tunnel syndrome.

✧ Imaging Examinations

  • X-rays: X-rays reveal fractures, arthritis, or bone displacements
  • MRI or Ultrasound: These images help diagnose tendonitis, sheath problems, or ligament injuries and identify enlarged nerves

✧ Blood Tests  

If your doctor suspects an infection or rheumatoid arthritis, they may advise performing blood tests to check for inflammation or infections.

 

How to Prevent Thumb Injuries?

Now that you know, “Why does my thumb hurt all of a sudden?” it's good to prevent it from happening in the first place. The good news is that you can take a couple of measures to prevent thumb injuries beforehand, including:

1. Ergonomic Adjustments

Firstly and most importantly, check whether your work environment is comfortable enough, especially if you’re working for most of the day. Whether you work on a desk or other settings, use a proper posture and position your hands to minimize strain on your thumb.

2. Hand and Thumb Exercises

Best of all, add hand and thumb exercises to your everyday routine. This strengthens muscles, improves flexibility in your thumb, and reduces the chances of injury.

3. Correct Techniques

When performing activities using your thumb, such as typing, lifting weights, or playing musical instruments, make sure to use proper techniques. Avoid overexerting pressure on your hands and use balanced movements to prevent injuries. Also, listen to your body, recognize early signs of discomfort or pain, and take accurate measures on time.

4. Regular Breaks

If you’re performing activities that strain your thumbs, don’t forget to take frequent breaks or intervals during them. This helps your muscles and joints to relax, rest, and recover. Ultimately, you can prevent overuse injuries.

5. Use of Assistive Devices

When performing activities that put stress on your thumb, it’s best to use assistive devices like thumb splints or braces. These devices offer support to your muscles and assist in movements that may lead to thumb injuries.

Fivali Thumb Splint Brace 1 Pack FWR02 - Guide

Product shown in the picture: Fivali Thumb Splint Brace 1 Pack FWR02

If you find yourself asking, “Why does my thumb hurt all of a sudden?” or fall into any of the conditions mentioned above, there are precautions you can take. Primarily, avoid excessively straining your thumb to prevent repetitive injuries. Alternatively, use Fivali’s thumb support devices so you can break free from tensions like thumb pain, tendonitis, injury, or sprain.

 

Reference link

[1] Mayo Clinic, “De Quervain tenosynovitis”. Available at:https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/de-quervain-tenosynovitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371332 (Accessed on June 26, 2024)
[2] Ortho Info, “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome”. Available at:https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/ (Accessed on June 26, 2024)
[3] Cleveland Clinic, “Felon Finger”. Available at:https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22758-felon-finger (Accessed on June 26, 2024)

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