There are many causes of thumb pain. You can often ease the pain yourself. But contact your GP if the pain does not improve.

How you can ease thumb pain

If you see your GP about pain in your thumb, they'll usually suggest you try these things:

Do

  • rest your thumb when you can

  • put an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) in a towel and place it on your thumb for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours

  • take paracetamol to ease the pain

  • take off any jewellery if your thumb looks swollen

  • stop or cut down activities that are causing the pain – for example, typing, using vibrating tools for work, or playing an instrument

  • wear a splint to support your thumb and ease pain, especially at night – you can get these at most pharmacies and supermarkets

  • consider taping something like a pen or lollipop stick to your thumb – this will keep it in place until you can get a splint

  • consider using gadgets or tools to make difficult or painful tasks easier – for example, to open jars or chop vegetables

Don't

  • do not use ibuprofen in the first 48 hours after an injury

  • do not use heat packs or have hot baths for the first 2 to 3 days after an injury

  • do not lift heavy objects or grip anything too tightly

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • the best painkiller to take
  • the best splint to support your thumb and ease pain – flexible rubber splints are available if you still need to use your thumb
  • treatments for common skin problems
  • if you need to see a GP

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • the pain is severe or stopping you doing normal activities
  • the pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
  • the pain has not improved after treating it at home for 2 weeks
  • you have any tingling or loss of sensation in your hand
  • you have diabetes– hand problems can be more serious if you have diabetes

Immediate action required: Go to your local injury unit or your nearest ED if you:

  • have severe pain
  • feel faint, dizzy or sick from the pain
  • heard a snap, grinding or popping noise at the time of the injury
  • are not able to move your thumb or hold things
  • have a thumb that's changed shape or colour, such as blue or white

These might be signs of a broken thumb.

Common causes of thumb pain

Thumb pain is often caused by bruising or injuring your thumb.

Your symptoms might also give you an idea of what's causing the pain in your thumb.

Common causes of thumb pain

Symptoms Possible cause
Symptoms Pain, swelling, bruising after an injury Possible cause sprained thumb
Symptoms Pain, swelling and stiffness at the base of the thumb that lasts a long time, it may be hard to move your thumb, you may have a lump Possible cause tendonitis (de Quervain's disease) or arthritis
Symptoms Aching pain that's worse at night, numbness or pins and needles, a weak thumb or difficulty gripping Possible cause carpal tunnel syndrome
Symptoms Pain or tenderness in your palm at the base of your thumb, stiffness, clicking when you move your finger or thumb Possible cause trigger thumb
Symptoms Sudden, sharp pain, swelling, a popping or snapping sound during the injury Possible cause broken thumb


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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