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Could you do all the things you do in a day without the use of your thumb? I dare you to try in using the experiment below, but first I want you to understand just how important this amazing little digit really is to our everyday lives!

The thumb is a small, but incredibly important joint.  We may not realize just how essential the thumb is to our daily activities until a painful thumb interferes with our routines.  This is especially true when thumb pain is in our dominant hand.  About 50% of our hand use relies upon the thumb with its’ flexibility, multi-directional movement, delicate pinch and powerful grasp.

In fact, when I was in college as an occupational therapy undergrad (just a few short years ago!) we had to tape our dominant thumb to our palm for a day and figure out how to adapt to life with out this opposable digit. I dare you to take on this experiment for yourself! It wasn’t easy!

5 Common Causes for Thumb Pain:

1. Overuse: Our thumbs are working overtime!  As a result the incidence of thumb pain has risen dramatically over the past several years.  In particular repetitive stress injuries (RSI) caused by continuous movement, pinching, grasping or pulling are common source of thumb pain. One type of RSI dubbed “Blackberry Thumb” is not incidentally caused from picking too many blackberries.  Yep, it’s the continuous micro thumb movements involved in texting, emailing, gaming, more texting, and using hand held wireless PDA’s that result in this type of RSI.

2. Osteoarthritis: More common in women than men, pain usually appears first at the base of the thumb where it attaches to the wrist.  Osteoarthritis is due to ‘wear and tear’ of the joint cartilage, so likelihood of occurrence increases with age.

3. Injury: Trauma to the joint from a fall, a wreck, a whack, or a slam in the door can cause temporary thumb pain and swelling or long term damage depending upon the extent of the injury.  More severe injuries may involve a fracture or torn ligament.

4. DeQuervain’s Tendonitis: This falls in the category of RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury), and symptoms include pain on the thumb side of the wrist or lower arm particularly when grasping and pinching.

5.  Ligament Laxity: Loose ligaments, over time, cause the joints to slip out of place and become unstable. Thumb deformity can result from instability.

Treat your Thumbs with TLC (Thumb-loving-care!)

Do you have “Blackberry Thumb”?  If your thumb pain is related to overuse the best thing you can do is give it a rest.  Continuing with marathon texting or what ever repetitive movement is the culprit of your pain will only make matters worse.  Rest and ice your thumb.  In some cases a soft thumb splint may be recommended to immobilize the joints so the inflamed tendons can heal.

Once the pain begins to subside, gentle stretching and strengthening may be indicated with hand and wrist exercises. In more severe cases a steroid injection may be required and as a last resort surgery to remove the scar tissue along the tendons.  But this could likely be avoided if you simply become aware of and change your habits so your thumbs are not on constant overdrive.  Treat these important and hard working little digits with TLC!

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