Oh, my aching thumb

Dianes thumb

A few weeks ago I woke up with a sore right thumb. Right at the base of it, in the joint. Now, I know how important our thumbs are, but that morning I really found out. I couldn’t even pull the covers back without a jolt of pain. Try going to the bathroom when you can’t use your thumb. Getting dressed. Savoring that morning cup of coffee. Every single thing I tried to do seemed to involve my thumb!

I thought it must be arthritis. My mother often complained of arthritis in her thumbs as she got older. But I didn’t think you could suddenly wake up with searing arthritis pain. Then the lightbulb went off. I had spent nearly the entire day before helping my daughter get ready for the arrival of my baby granddaughter #2. We went through several boxes of baby clothes, all of which I washed, dried, and folded. Five or six loads of laundry. Reaching in and out of the laundry basket, washer, and dryer countless times. I think the repetitive pinching motion of grabbing clothes is what led to my pain.

I moaned and groaned for a while and took some ibuprofen and then decided I should try some gentle thumb stretches. I didn’t like doing them at first but slowly my thumb started to feel much better. By the end of the day, I was fine and thankfully, there was no more baby laundry to be done.

Dr. Kathryn Hanna/thumb injuryDr. Kathryn Hanna is an orthopaedic surgeon at OA Centers for Orthopaedics. She specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery and had this to say about repetitive motions and the thumb.

Repetitive forceful motions can be responsible for causing tendonitis. Tendonitis within the flexor tendon sheath of the thumb can cause irritation and pain with pinching or grabbing, sometimes even causing the thumb to “click” or “lock”.  This is known as a trigger thumb.

Repetitive motion can also irritate underlying arthritis or cause synovitis/inflammation at a joint like the thumb CMC joint, one of the most common sites for arthritis in the hand.

The diagnosis directs whether therapy, bracing or cortisone injections are the first best line of treatment.  Sometimes surgery is also warranted.

Avoiding repetitive activities or activities that irritate the hand will help the symptoms, but may not be enough to treat the underlying diagnosis

Range of motion exercises for your thumb

Courtesy of OA, here are pictures and directions for many of the exercises I did, just in case you wake up with a sore thumb someday. Better to prevent them in the first place. Stretch your hands often, try to avoid repeatedly pinching your fingers, space out those loads of laundry, get someone else to do it.

Active thumb flexion

Start by trying to touch the tip of each finger. Once you can touch the little finger, work
your way down to the palm

Passive thumb flexion

Passive thumb flexion

Using your opposite hand, bend the thumb towards the palm.

Active radial abduction

Active radial thumb exercise

Move thumb out and back, away from the palm of the hand. Stretch it back as far as you can go.

Palmar abduction

Palmar abduction thumb exercise

Start with hand on its side (thumb will be on top). Move thumb out away from the palm of the hand but still in line with the pointer (index) finger.

Passive abduction

Passive abduction thumb exercise

Put thumb of opposite hand into the palm and on the muscle part of your thumb. Slowly push down and back to stretch the thumb.

Meet the new baby

Dianes granddaughters

This is a picture of my sweet granddaughters. The baby was born on October 10. She was a whopping 9 pounds, 7.9 ounces, so guess what? All the newborn clothes we had ready for her don’t fit! She’s already into 0-3 months. Nana’s thumb doesn’t hurt anymore so I can pick her up and pick her up and pick her up. That’s one repetitive movement I won’t ever be able to stop myself from doing.

Don’t miss a thing! Sign up to receive an email when I post something new on Catching Health.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.