Various health conditions can cause thumb pain. The cause can depend on the exact location of the pain, how it feels, and how often you feel it. Common treatments include medication or physical therapy.

In some cases, consistent pain in your thumb can indicate that you need surgery or treatment for another underlying health condition, such as arthritis. Keep reading to find out more about pain on or near your thumb.

Our opposable thumb joints come in handy, and we tend to use our thumbs for lots of purposes. If you have pain in your thumb joints, there are a couple of things that could be causing it.

Basal joint or rheumatoid arthritis

The cushion-like cartilage inside your thumb joint can break down as you age, causing the symptoms of thumb arthritis. Other symptoms include loss of grip strength and thumb mobility.

Thumb arthritis can be related to osteoarthritis (which affects the joint and the bone) or rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune condition). Thumb pain at your thumb joint caused by arthritis can feel like burning, stabbing, or a more subtle creaking pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Pain at your thumb joint can be a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome pain can feel like weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning at your wrist, in your fingers, or in the joints of your hands.

Carpal tunnel is not uncommon, affecting as many as 6 percent of adults in the United States. Women are more likely to have the condition than men.

Injury or sprain

Thumb sprains, a jammed thumb, and “skier’s thumb” are all caused by damage to the ligaments in your thumb. These injuries, commonly caused during contact sports or falls, can cause pain at the site of your joint. A sprained thumb could also result in swelling and stiffness.

Your thumb may also be in pain if it’s broken. If you have a broken thumb, you’ll feel intense pain radiating from the site of the break. This deep, inner pain may make you feel nauseated.

Overuse of thumb

Just like any other joint, the thumb can be overused or overextended. When your thumb is overused, it can feel sore and painful at the joint. A joint that is overused may feel warm and tingling, in addition to being painful.

This pain could be a symptom of thumb injury or overuse, basal joint arthritis, or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Additionally, pain at the base of your thumb can be caused by injuries to the ligaments at the lower part of your hand and in your wrist.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is inflammation at the thumb side of your wrist. This condition is sometimes called “gamer’s thumb,” as it can result from a lot of time holding a video game controller.

Pain at the site of your thumb’s knuckle can be caused by:

  • basal joint arthritis
  • jammed thumb or sprained knuckle
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • trigger finger/thumb

Pain in the pad of your thumb can be caused by:

  • basal joint or other type of arthritis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome

It could also be caused by a soft tissue injury, such as injury to the ligaments or tendons around your thumb, but also the fleshy part (“pad) of your thumb. Bruising and cuts on your skin from day-to-day activities can cause injury to the pad of your thumb.

Wrist and thumb pain can be caused by:

  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • basal joint or other type of arthritis

Thumb pain can be diagnosed in several ways, depending on your other symptoms. Common methods of diagnosing thumb pain include:

  • X-ray to reveal fractures or arthritis
  • tests for carpal tunnel syndrome, including Tinel’s sign (a nerve test) and electronic nerve activity tests
  • ultrasound to see inflamed or enlarged nerves
  • MRI to see wrist and joint anatomy

Home remedies

If you’re experiencing pain from a soft tissue injury, overuse, or over-extension of your thumb joint, consider resting your thumb. You may want to apply ice to the site of your pain if you notice swelling.

If you’re treating carpal tunnel syndrome or loss of grip, you may try wearing a splint at night to try to stabilize the compressed nerves in your wrist.

Over-the-counter, oral medications for joint pain include NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophin (Tylenol).

Medical treatment

If home remedies for your thumb pain aren’t working, see a doctor. Medical treatment will vary according to the cause of your pain. Medical treatment for thumb pain may include:

You should seek medical help immediately if you believe you have broken a bone in your thumb, your wrist, or any part of your hand. If you cannot move your thumb, or if it appears crooked after an injury, you should also seek emergency care.

If your symptoms are recurrent pain in your joints, knuckles, and wrist, you may have an underlying condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome or basal joint arthritis.

If you have joint pain that limits your daily activities, notice a decrease in your joint mobility, have trouble gripping objects, or live with pain that spikes each morning when you get out of bed, see your doctor to talk about your symptoms.

Pain in your thumb can have several different causes. Some of the causes can be treated at home, with rest and over-the-counter pain medication while you wait for an injury to heal.

Other causes, such as arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, may require medical treatment. Speak to a doctor if you have recurrent pain in any part of your thumb.