It can be alarming to lose feeling in any part of your body. But losing feeling in one or both of your thumbs might seem especially odd. Thumbs help us hold cups, open bottles, and type on our smartphones. Numb thumbs can make these and many other tasks much more difficult to do.
In your thumbs and other areas, numbness is usually accompanied by other sensations. These can include prickling pins and needles, burning, or tingling. It might be difficult to bend or move your thumb when it feels numb.
There are many possible causes for numbness in your thumbs. Some are more serious than others. It’s important to take a look at your overall health to help determine what might be causing numbness. Some of the more common causes of thumb numbness include:
Anxiety, fatigue, and stress
Chest pain, dizziness, nausea, sweating, tingling, and racing heart rate often accompany the numbness. These symptoms are also often present during a panic attack.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common causes of thumb numbness. It’s caused by the compression of a nerve that runs through your wrist bones.
Cervical radiculopathy can occur when a nerve in your neck is compressed, irritated, or pinched where it comes off of the spinal cord as a result of aging or injury. This often causes pain in the neck that moves into the shoulder, causing muscle weakness and numbness from the arm into the hand.
High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes that isn’t managed properly can damage nerves throughout the body. Most often, it causes pain and numbness in the legs and feet. But those in the fingers and hands may also be affected. Problems with the digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and heart often accompany pain and numbness.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition causing muscle pain and fatigue throughout the body with no clear cause. Numbness and tingling in the fingers, hands, feet, legs, and face are common. Additionally, those with fibromyalgia may also experience frequent headaches, digestive problems, and mood disorders.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormones the body needs to regulate its metabolism and other body processes. In its early stages it often causes no symptoms.
When left untreated, it may cause nerve damage and pain and numbness in the fingers and other parts of the body. It may also cause:
Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can affect all parts of the body, including the:
One major symptom of nerve problems caused by lupus is numbness in the fingers and hands, as well as other parts of the body.
Pernicious anemia occurs when you don’t have the right proteins to absorb vitamin B-12 from food. Your body can’t make enough red blood cells to stay healthy.
Without treatment, this condition can cause organ damage, bone weakness, and increases risk of cancer. This condition may also cause neurological problems and nerve damage, causing numbness in the fingers, hands, and other body parts.
Peripheral neuropathy can cause numbness, pain, and weakness in the fingers, hands, feet, and toes. Sometimes it affects other parts of the body. This condition often follows damage to the peripheral nerves from:
- certain medications, such as those used in chemotherapy
- metabolic problems
- alcohol addiction
Raynaud’s phenomenon, also called Raynaud’s disease, can cause parts of the body to feel numb and cold when exposed to cold temperatures or when you’re under stress. The smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin will narrow.
Most often, this condition causes numbness in the fingers and toes, often causing a stinging or prickling feeling upon warming. Your skin may change color as a response to cold or stress.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks its own tissues, including the:
- blood vessels
When left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis may cause bone spurs in the wrists that cause carpal tunnel syndrome and accompanying numbness, pain, and weakness in the thumbs. Other symptoms may include:
- swollen and warm joints
- joint stiffness
- weight loss
Ulnar nerve entrapment
Ulnar nerve entrapment and other compression syndromes can occur when one of the three major nerves traveling from your neck down to your hand becomes constricted under the collarbone, elbow, or wrist. Numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands and a weakened grip are all symptoms of this condition.
Less common causes of thumb numbness may include:
In addition to other symptoms, checking how and where you’re experiencing numbness in your thumb can help you determine its cause. Here are common causes of specific types of thumb pain:
Numbness in thumb tip or pad
- anxiety, fatigue and stress
- pernicious anemia
- peripheral neuropathy
- Raynaud’s disease
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- rheumatoid arthritis
- cervical radiculopathy
- rheumatoid arthritis
Numbness in thumb, index, or middle finger
Numbness in thumb and index finger, including your shoulder
In some cases, thumb numbness will get better on its own without treatment. Persistent thumb numbness could be a sign of a serious disease. It’s important to consult a doctor for any thumb numbness that:
- spreads to other parts of your body
- comes and goes
- interferes with your everyday life
- appears related to certain activities
If numbness in your thumb or any other body part begins suddenly with confusion, weakness, paralysis, difficulty talking, dizziness or a severe headache, call for emergency medical help right away.
A doctor will first perform a visual examination of your hand and other parts of your body. They may run imaging, urine, or blood tests to help make a diagnosis if the cause of your numbness isn’t visible.
A doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on your diagnosis.
A few conditions causing thumb numbness, such as smashes, can be treated at home with rest, heat, and ice. The following can also reduce numbness:
- Epsom salt baths
- stress management and relaxation techniques
- supportive devices, such as a brace
If these home remedies don’t help, you probably require medical treatment.
Other conditions causing thumb numbness, such as diabetes, must be treated with medication. Some conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical radiculopathy, may require surgery. Physical therapy can also be beneficial to some with nerve issues causing thumb numbness.
Numbness in the thumbs can have a broad range of causes. In some cases, the causes can be treated at home with rest and care. But in other cases, causes must be addressed with medical treatment. If you’re in doubt, see a doctor to get to the bottom of what’s causing your thumb numbness.