Pain in your thumb and wrist may develop from arthritis, de Quervain tenosynovitis, injuries, and other causes.

Joint pain in your wrist and thumb are two common symptoms of many conditions, such as arthritis. While it’s also possible to have arthritis in both of these areas at the same time, concurrent sharp pain in your thumb joint and wrist might also indicate something else.

If you’re experiencing any ongoing pain in your wrist and thumb, consider talking with a doctor for an evaluation.

Let’s go over possible conditions that cause pain in your thumb and wrist at the same time, treatment options, and more.

Having pain in your thumb or wrist can indicate arthritis or other conditions that a doctor can diagnose and treat. However, having sharp pain in both areas at the same time is a sign of more specific underlying causes.

Below are some of the most likely causes a doctor might consider.

Thumb tendonitis (de Quervain tenosynovitis)

Tendinopathy is a general term that describes tendon pain and loss of function. Overuse injuries often cause it.

While the most commonly affected areas include the elbow, shoulder, Achilles tendon, and knee areas, it’s possible for your thumb and wrist to develop tendinopathy, too. This is known as de Quervain tenosynovitis.

This condition involves tendonitis in both your thumb and your wrist. It’s caused by swelling or inflammation in the tendons and tendon sheath that run between your thumb and the wrist below it.

De Quervain tenosynovitis is most common in females and in adults 40–50 years old. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a risk factor, though this condition is also thought to be associated with overuse.

Over time, inflammation from de Quervain tenosynovitis can cause pain and tenderness in the affected thumb and side of your wrist. Some of the most telling symptoms of this condition include pain that worsens when you:

  • try to move your thumb
  • grasp an object, such as a pen
  • turn your wrist
  • form a fist
  • attempt to lift an object in front of you with your thumbs pointing up

You may also experience:

  • reduced range of motion
  • pain that travels past your wrist to your arm
  • “snapping” sensations in your thumb

Arthritis

In some cases, thumb and wrist pain can be attributed to arthritis.

Osteoarthritis develops gradually due to age or wear and tear in your joints, while post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury to your joints or ligaments.

It’s also thought that people who have RA, a type of autoimmune disease that often starts in the finger joints, may have a higher risk of developing de Quervain tenosynovitis.

In general, all types of arthritis can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected joints. Symptoms can worsen after periods of rest and upon waking up in the morning.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

People who have arthritis in the bottom part of the thumb are also more likely to have concurring carpal tunnel syndrome.

This condition may also develop from overuse injuries. A pinched nerve or underlying medical conditions like RA can cause it too.

Common symptoms include:

  • pain, tingling, and numbness that affects your thumb and fingers
  • pain that may radiate from your hand to your wrist, arm, and shoulder
  • weakness in your hand

In some cases, sharp pain in your thumb joint and wrist may also accompany pain in your entire hand. Possible conditions that may cause all three types of pain include:

Consider getting medical help for pain in your thumb and wrist that continues despite resting the affected joints after 2 weeks.

Some underlying causes, such as de Quervain tenosynovitis, can cause the pain to travel up your arm. This is a sign you need to visit a doctor.

Also contact a doctor if the pain develops suddenly or limits your range of motion. Many of these underlying causes are treatable.

A doctor can diagnose concurrent pain in your thumb joint and wrist by performing a physical exam, getting your history of symptoms, and ordering diagnostic testing.

A doctor may:

  • touch your thumb and wrist area to look for signs of swelling
  • ask you to perform range-of-motion exercises with your thumb and wrist
  • perform a Finkelstein test, in which you put your thumb in your palm, wrap your fingers around it, and try to move your pinkie finger toward your wrist
  • run X-rays to look for signs of joint damage
  • order blood tests to look for signs of inflammatory diseases, like RA
  • order nerve tests for carpal tunnel syndrome

While the exact treatment varies on the underlying cause and severity of your pain, you can likely expect a combination of home remedies, medications, and possible medical procedures.

Home remedies

Home remedies may involve wearing splints or braces to support your wrist and thumb as the joints heal. A doctor may also recommend resting the affected hand to improve pain and other symptoms.

You can also try soaking your thumb and wrist in alternating warm and cold water to reduce swelling (called contrast soaks). Applying cold packs or ice for 5–15 minutes at a time may also help reduce arthritis pain.

Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help alleviate pain in your thumb and wrist. A doctor will likely recommend starting with an over-the-counter version, such as oral medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve) or topical ointments like diclofenac (Voltaren).

Stronger medications may be needed for severe pain and inflammation, especially if your condition reduces your range of motion. In these cases, your doctor may consider oral or injectable corticosteroids.

Your doctor may prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for autoimmune diseases like RA.

Speak with your doctor about which medication may be best for you.

Medical treatment

Surgery is considered in the most severe cases of thumb and wrist pain that doesn’t improve with home remedies or medications. The exact type of surgery depends on the underlying cause.

For example, tendon sheath repair may be conducted via an incision in the hand by an orthopedic surgeon. In the case of severe arthritis, fusion or joint replacement surgeries might be considered.

Regardless of whether you’re a candidate for surgery, a doctor may recommend hand exercises to help strengthen your thumb and wrist. You may also be referred to a physical therapist.

Consider some of the most frequently asked questions about thumb and wrist pain you may wish to further discuss with a medical professional.

What causes sudden sharp pain in the thumb joint?

While many cases of joint pain occur from gradual damage, there are several possible causes of sudden and sharp thumb joint pain. These include trigger thumb, which develops when the flexor pollicis longus tendon in the thumb gets inflamed, and trauma or injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in your thumb, called skier’s thumb.

How long does it take for de Quervain tenosynovitis to heal?

While there’s no set timeline for de Quervain tenosynovitis, experts estimate home remedies and medications are effective in about 50–80% of cases. Because the condition results from inflammation, allowing the tissues to heal is key. This may include wearing a splint and avoiding activities that can worsen symptoms.

What happens if de Quervain tenosynovitis goes untreated?

Left untreated, de Quervain tenosynovitis may eventually worsen and require surgery. This involves an orthopedic surgeon making an incision in the affected hand and fixing the tendon sheath that’s causing problems in your thumb and wrist.

It’s important not to ignore pain, especially if it lasts longer than a couple of weeks despite activity modifications.

A doctor can help you get to the root cause of your thumb joint and wrist pain and develop a treatment plan to reduce your symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.