Your thenar eminence is the soft fleshy area at the base of your thumb. The four muscles found here make your thumb opposable. That is, they allow your thumb to grip and hold small objects like a pencil, sewing needle, or spoon. An opposable thumb also lets you text on your phone, grasp and turn a doorknob, and carry heavy bags.
You use your thumb to perform many of your daily tasks. Over time, these repetitive motions can stress the muscles that control your thumb, causing inflammation and pain.
Keep reading to learn how thenar eminence pain is diagnosed, how it’s treated, and how it can be prevented.
To evaluate thenar eminence pain, your doctor will ask you:
- when it started
- what you were doing when it started
- the location of your pain and if it spreads to another place
- if anything makes it better or worse, especially a certain movement
- if you’ve had it before
- your occupation
- your activities and hobbies
Your doctor will then examine your hand, focusing on the location of the pain. They may try to reproduce the pain by moving your thumb or wrist.
Thenar eminence compression test
In this test, your doctor may push on your thenar eminence with their thumb to locate the painful area.
Carpal tunnel compression test
A carpal tunnel compression test, in which your doctor pushes on your carpal tunnel, is a more common test. Your doctor will perform this test if they suspect your pain is related to or causing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Most often, thenar eminence pain occurs because you’ve developed overuse syndrome from repetitive thumb movements. The pain is located in your thenar eminence because the muscles that move your thumb are there.
One of the most common but easily avoidable causes of thenar eminence overuse syndrome is frequent texting with your thumbs.
The muscles in your thenar eminence are connected to the ligament that runs across the inside of your wrist over your carpal tunnel. When this ligament becomes inflamed or there’s any swelling of tissues in the carpal tunnel, it narrows the carpal tunnel, compressing everything in it, including the median nerve. The median nerve that runs through this tunnel triggers the muscles in your thenar eminence. When the nerve gets compressed, it can cause thenar eminence pain.
It works the other way, too. Overuse syndrome in your thenar muscles can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause pain in your thenar eminence.
Sports injuries, especially in baseball, can cause thenar eminence pain. Typically, it happens when you catch a fast-moving ball with your bare hands or fall on your thenar eminence after stretching to catch a ball.
If you can stop the activity that’s causing the inflammation and pain, it will usually get better. Often this isn’t possible because it’s a work activity. If it’s due to a hobby or sports, you may not want to give it up.
Medical treatments and home remedies can help even if you don’t completely stop the offending activity. Usually a combination from both categories works best.
A thumb splint is commonly used to treat thenar eminence pain. It immobilizes your thumb, so the muscles can’t be overused. This helps to relieve the pain and gives your muscles time to heal.
You might not be able to wear the splint all the time if it interferes with your ability to perform your job, but you should wear it whenever possible.
Other medical treatments include:
- immobilizing your thumb with kinesiology tape
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
- steroid injections
- acupuncture, acupressure, or dry needling
Things you can do on your own at home include:
The best way to prevent thenar eminence pain from happening or reoccurring is by avoiding activities that involve repetitive thumb movement.
Sometimes you can’t stop these activities because they’re necessary for work or you want to continue the activity that causes it. In this case, you should take frequent breaks to rest the muscles controlling the thumb.
You can also find alternate ways to perform the activity that don’t involve overusing your thumb.
Stretching your thumb and hand muscles can also help prevent the muscles from becoming stiff. Here are some good stretches for your thenar eminence:
- Gently push your thumb back toward your forearm while spreading your other fingers apart.
- Push your palm down against a flat surface while keeping your thumb and index finger as wide apart as you can.
- Lay your hand on a flat surface with your palm up and gently lean into your thenar eminence with your elbow, moving it around the area.
Many occupations, sports activities, and hobbies increase your risk for pain and inflammation in your thenar eminence. A few of these are:
- occupations that use computers or hand tools frequently
- massage therapy
- sewing and knitting
Thenar eminence pain is usually due to overuse syndrome brought on by repetitive thumb movements. It typically improves with a combination of medical treatments and home remedies.
You can sometimes prevent thenar eminence pain by avoiding activities that require repetitive thumb movement. When that’s not possible, taking frequent breaks during the activity and performing stretches can be helpful.