Ever wonder why your thumbs hurt. The top complaint I hear each week about hand pain is about the thumb, specifically, the base of the thumb. There are good reasons for this pain beyond arthritis. Many times, I see women having more issues with the thumb than men, not sure why. Today, I will talk about what causes the pain, how it is usually treated, and finally, how to solve it.
What Causes the Pain?
One of the first areas I look at when a patient comes to me with thumbs that hurt is the muscle between the thumb and index finger, named the Thenar eminence. Most times this muscle becomes hard from overuse and can be very tender with just a gentle squeeze. Some have said that by squeezing this muscle, it can relieve headaches. That might be true. However, I think that because it can be so tender, the pain of that area overriding the headache is more likely the cause.
The Thenar eminence wraps around the thumb including both knuckles and when it gets tight, it can pull the joint into the socket. This can lead to bone damage later on in life. Too many times people assume it is arthritis right off the bat, when in reality, it is just a tight muscle. That tightness comes from usage. Every time you grip something, the Thenar eminence tightens.
Over time, the entire hand can become harder, and it may feel like you cannot grip anything. It‘s not necessarily a sign of getting older, but more a sign of over usage with no relief. As with the thumb, you can massage and soften the hands. I would suggest using heat before you massage your hands as the heat will increase the blood flow in the muscles of the hands, making them more pliable.
From the elbow down to the tips of your fingers there are 26 muscles which control the hand for gripping, rotating, and bending at the wrist. If the forearm gets tight, most of these actions will feel difficult and, again, can cause the thumb area to hurt. If you hold your arm up in front of you and look at from the elbow to the fingertips, you can see the muscles moving as you make a fist.
Making a fist requires the five muscles on top of the forearm to extend as the five muscles on the bottom of the forearm contract. If the five muscles on top are too hard, it forces the muscles on the bottom to overwork. This can cause the thumb to hurt by forcing it to work too hard to grip an object.
Traditional Treatments When Thumbs Hurt and Why they Fail
The most common treatment for thumb pain is some form of a lotion, cream, or salve to reduce the pain. In the beginning, this may work, but the problem will get worse as you are not addressing the true cause.
Pain pills, like the creams, may work in the beginning, but you will soon realize you are taking more and more pills as the pain seems to get worse. Worse yet, the pills may damage your stomach or liver if you take them for a long period of time. .Wraps and braces will stabilize the thumb and hand. We see many people with carpal tunnel syndrome wearing these braces. This is a temporary fix, at best. As long as you do not use the hand, it feels fine, but when you do use it, the pain usually returns.
Injections are the next step. Like pills and creams, they provide only temporary relief, at best, as nothing is being changed, physically. Finally, surgery may stop the pain for a few months or a couple of years, but the pain will return. This isn’t to say the surgery was a failure, but you will go back to doing what got you into trouble in the first place. If no one teaches you how to use your hands differently, how would you know to work differently?
How to Solve Thumb Pain
I would begin with heat and gentle squeezing at the first sign of pain. Many times, this is all you need to do to prevent it from getting worse. The softer you can make the Thenar eminence muscle, the better for your hand.
Next, I would stretch my thumb and fingers daily, especially if you use your hands every day. I think most of us do, maybe not as a job, but in life in general. I know most of you have asked me about my hands as we hear about massage therapists quitting their jobs due to hand injuries. I stretch my hands several times every day, and I have no hand pain at all.
Below I have posted two hand videos for stretching the thumb area. I would suggest you do these at least once a day if you have no pain. If you are having pain, I would stretch your hands two to three times a day. You cannot over-stretch your hands. I have found we are too quick to blame the pain on arthritis when in fact, it may not be arthritis at all. I have helped many people, even after their doctor said it was arthritis, to stop/reduce their pain.
Tips to Improve your Stretching When Your Thumbs Hurt
Give yourself about 15 minutes twice a day and you should see better results within 2 weeks. This, though, is a lifetime event. Think of your pet. they stretch every day and several times a day. Stretch when they stretch. Follow the videos below and free your knees. In my opinion, the calf stretch is the most important stretch a human can do. It will solve many issues of the body.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Thumb Abductor & Adduction
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
All you need is a yoga strap and a tennis ball for the tennis ball massage. Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese, and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.