Swollen Thumb Pad, Joint or Knuckle Causes and Treatment for Thumb Swelling

A swollen thumb, thumb pads, joints and knuckles can mean an infection or injury to the hand. Other than swelling, green pus can be a real sign of infection. Here are the causes, care and treatment for thumb inflammation.

A swollen thumb not only causes you discomfort, but it also makes it impossible for you to perform your normal daily activities.

Swollen thumb causes and treatment
Infected thumb with pus.

The pain caused by a swollen thumb pad could be as a result of an injury that you have recently sustained, or damage that has occurred to some of the structures that are present in the thumb. The structures are often found in the nerves, blood vessels, tendons, joints, fingernails, skin, or the bones.

The symptoms you will be exhibit when the thumb is swollen may vary, or they may also be constant, and with time, they could begin to improve or worsen as you move about. The pain being experienced in the thumb can be described as stabbing, throbbing, sharp, or dull depending on the intensity.

Depending on what could have caused the swollen thumb pad, there is a chance that you may experience pain in either one or both thumbs.

Conditions or diseases, which normally affect your muscles and nerves, could be associated with symptoms that target both your hands and your arms.

A number of factors can cause a swollen thumb pad. Some of the causes may end up healing after a few days without you requiring any form of treatment, while you may be required to treat other symptoms as a way of helping eliminate the swelling and the pain. For you to treat a thumb that is swollen, you will need to know what caused the swelling to occur in the first place.

Causes of Thumb Swelling

As mentioned above, there are a number of factors, which can lead to the swelling of your thumb. Some of the most common causes of a swollen thumb pad include:

1. Trauma and injury to your thumb

When you injury your thumb, wrist or hand, there is a high probability that the thumb may end up swelling.

Sustaining an injury when you are playing, or when at your place of work will lead to the thumb becoming swollen. At times sustaining an injury will result in your fracturing your thumb bone. When this happens, you will need to have an X-ray taken to detect whether there is a fracture.

2. Thumb overuse

Overusing your thumb when playing guitar, texting or playing video games such as the Xbox, will lead to a lot of pressure being exerted on the thumb joint.

When too much pressure is placed on your thumb, it may lead to swelling, immobility of the thumb joint, as well as pain being experienced.

3. Arthritis

Arthritis combined with osteoarthritis associated with small joints will affect the joint that is present on your thumb.

It is a condition that could lead to your thumb becoming swollen, restricting the movements of your thumb, and severe pain being experienced. In addition to the thumb, your fingers may also become affected with arthritis.

4. Bursitis and thumb tendonitis

These are two conditions, which could cause inflammation of your joint, as well as pain. When a person has thumb tendonitis, the tendon, which is attached at the thumb base will become irritated because of the repeated manipulation of the wrist as well as the hand.

For bursitis, a person will experience inflammation in the bursa, which is a space between the ligaments and the bones.

5. Stings and insect bites

Bites and stings have also been known to cause a swollen thumb pad. Itching, burning, and local inflammation may be noticed after being bitten by an insect.

There is a chance that the pain and inflammation will persist for a few hours after the bite or sting, before going away on its own, and without the need for medical intervention.

6. Thumb infection

An infection of your thumb may also lead to it becoming swollen. This infection may be secondary in nature and could have been caused by a cut, or recent trauma that has happened on the thumb.

For a person suffering diabetes, there will be a need to ensure that they control their blood sugar levels.

7. Pulled cuticle

thumb-sucking-and-nail-biting-in-babies-can-lead-to-an-infected-thumb
Sucking thumbs and nail biting.

Damaged or pulled cuticles can also lead to thumb swelling. “Biting or pulling off a hangnail; frequent sucking on a finger; clipping a nail too short or trimming the cuticle (the skin around the sides and bottom of the nail” can all lead to a pulled cuticle.

Pulled cuticles can lead to inflammation on the sides of your thumbs. This will result in the swelling of your thumb finger.

8. Nail biting

Another cause of a swollen and inflamed thumb is nail biting. People who bite their nails are more likely to get an infection around the nail, also called Paronychia.

According to Foundry Sports Medicine, “During infection, swelling or pus is trapped in these small compartments under pressure; this provokes extreme throbbing & discomfort.  There is firm swelling, redness, heat, and an accumulation of pus may be visible.”

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9. Lymphedema

When lymph nodes are removed from your upper body due to medical reasons, you may suffer from lymphedema. This is characterized by the swelling of the hands and fingers. If you are getting a swollen thumb finger regularly, this could be the reason.

Swollen Thumb Joint

Thumb problems are very common in people of all age groups, and as seen above, they can be caused by very many factors.

In many cases, a swollen thumb joint will be accompanied by additional symptoms such as stiffness, limited range, redness, and soreness.

Where the swelling has been caused by an infection, an insect bite, or an injury, the swelling will go away on its own, and you will not need to seek any medical attention. However, if this does not occur, you will need to seek urgent medical attention, as it could mean that the problem is more serious than previously thought.

If it is left unchecked, a swollen thumb joint will lead to a lot of discomfort and pain, and it will eventually interfere with your daily activities. It is, therefore, important to ensure that you speak with your GP if the swelling does not go away in a day or two.

Symptoms

infected-thumb-swelling
Infection and inflammation.

In addition to the swelling, which is always visible, there is a chance that additional symptoms may accompany this condition. Some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for include redness, stiffness, and pain.

In some cases, a bony lump on your joint could also become visible. It will also be difficult for you to move the thumb around, and it will make it very difficult for you to perform even the simplest of tasks.

Where the swollen thumb joint has been caused by gout, you will find that the pain will be very excruciating, and can even wake you from a deep slumber. In such a case, ensure that you do not leave it unchecked.

Swollen Thumb Knuckle

A swollen thumb knuckle can be caused by overusing your knuckle. When your knuckle has excessive wear, it may lead to a breakdown of the cartilages, and this will result in the inflammation of the knuckle. Additionally, excessive activity will mean that inflammation will develop in the area around the tendons.

Home Remedies to Treat a Swollen Thumb Pad

Every day, you use your thumb when performing your normal day-to-day tasks. Therefore, when you have a swollen thumb pad, or when experiencing a lot of discomfort and pain, it means that you will not be able to achieve a lot.

Thumbs will from time to time swell, and the reasons for this are harmless. Normally, it is caused by a buildup of fluids, or by inflammation.

Apart from swelling, additional symptoms may accompany this condition, which will include bruising, fatigue, lumps along the thumb, numbness, reduced motion range, swollen joints, as well as stiffness.

A mild case of a swollen thumb pad will often heal within no time. To help deal with the swelling, it is recommended that you try out some home remedies.

In a case where swelling has been accompanied by a fever, weak grip, or severe pain, it will be best to visit your GP for a better diagnosis.

Contrast Hydrotherapy

Both warm and cold treatments, which are also known as hydrotherapy will help with swollen thumbs. Using warm water will help with circulation while cold water is vital in reducing inflammation and swelling.

Directions

  1. Take two small bowls and fill them with water. One should be filled with cold water and warm water
  2. You will need first to soak the finger that is affected in warm water for at least four minutes
  3. From here, place it in the cold water for one minute
  4. Alternate steps two and three for at least twenty minutes
  5. It is recommended that you repeat this particular treatment at least four times each day until you begin to experience some relief

Elevate the Fingers that are Affected

One of the reasons associated with swelling is poor circulation. To help reduce swelling that is associated with poor circulation, you will need to elevate your hands and fingers to your chest level. It will help improve circulation while providing relief from discomforts such as inflammation, pain, and swelling.

You need to keep the swollen thumb pad elevated above the chest level. To help with this, you can sit down on the sofa, place some pillows on the armrest, and then rest the hand with the swollen thumb on the armrest.

When sleeping, you can keep the fingers elevated by taking some pillows and placing your hands on the pillows.

Warm Oil Massage

A swollen thumb pad can also be treated at home using a warm oil massage.

Directions

  1. Use the microwave to warm olive oil or mustard oil
  2. Scoop the warm oil and dab it on the thumb that is affected
  3. Use the other thumb, and forefinger to gently massage the area that is swollen. When massaging, start from the tip and gently move towards the heart
  4. At any one time, ensure that you massage it for at least five minutes
  5. You should try and repeat the massage process a few times each day
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Massage not only stimulates the muscles present on your arm, but it also helps in improving blood circulation in the area that is affected. Additionally, massage will also encourage draining all the excess fluid, which is one of the leading causes of swelling and inflammation.

Exercise Your Fingers

When the fingers become swollen because of poor circulation, fluid retention, or strain, you will need to try and exercise the fingers as a way of helping reduce the swelling.

When you exercise the thumb, you make it possible for blood to flow to the area that is swollen, and this will stimulate pressure, and thereby reducing the retention of fluid. Exercises also reduce strain in the muscles that are in the affected area

Flexing the thumbs is considered to be one of the best ways for a person to exercise the swollen thumb pad

Directions

  1. Remove any rings that could be present on the thumb being exercised
  2. Proceed to close the fingers to form a fist and then hold it that position for a single minute
  3. Slowly, open your fist and then stretch all the fingers, including the thumb
  4. You will need to repeat this cycle for a few times

Alternatively, you may consider trying out hand squeezes using a rubber stress ball or a tennis ball

Compression

In order to help deal with inflammation and swelling, you need to ensure that the swollen thumb pad is compressed as soon as you can.

Compressing your hand and wrist will help prevent the accumulation of fluids in the fingers. In turn, this will help prevent swelling and reduce the pain being experienced in your thumb.

Directions

  1. When applying compression, you will need to use an elastic bandage, which is readily available at any pharmacy
  2. Proceed to wrap the bandage, and applying even pressure around the wrist, while ensuring that you cover the affected thumb as well
  3. It is important to ensure that the bandage remains in the affected area until you notice a reduction
  4. Before you sleep, ensure that you remove the bandage

Ensure that the bandage is not wrapped too tightly as it could cut off circulation in the area around the swollen thumb pad.

Additionally, you may also consider trying special fingerless compression gloves.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a great home remedy as it contains an essential ingredient known as curcumin. The ingredient is vital in that it comes with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which are used in fighting conditions such as a swollen thumb pad.

Directions

  1. Take a single teaspoon of turmeric powder and combine it with some olive oil for you to make a paste
  2. Take the paste and apply it on the thumb that is affected
  3. You will need to allow it a few minutes to dry before you can rinse it off using some lukewarm water
  4. Ensure you apply the turmeric powder paste two times each day until the pain and the swelling subsides

Alternatively, consider taking curcumin supplements, but ensure that you first consult with your GP

Epsom Salt

This salt is made using magnesium sulfate, which is a naturally occurring mineral that will help reduce your pain and eliminate any swelling that is present.

When inflammation occurs, it means that the body will have a small amount of magnesium present. Therefore, when you soak the thumb that is affected in Epsom salt, your skin will absorb the magnesium, and this will help in combating the inflammation on the thumb.

Directions

  1. Scoop two teaspoons of Epsom salt and them to a bowl of warm water
  2. Ensure you stir the water thoroughly
  3. Take the thumb that has been affected and dip it in the solution for at least fifteen minutes
  4. You may also choose to dip a towel into the bowl and use it to wrap your thumb
  5. Ensure you repeat this process two times each day

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has also been known to help in providing relief from a swollen thumb or joint. Apple cider vinegar has a high potassium content, which will help in reducing fluid retention, and at the same time reduce swelling.

It also contains acetic acid that will help in maintaining the pH balance in your body, and ensure that uric acid will not rise in your body.

Directions

  1. Take a small towel and proceed to soak it in a mixture that has been made using raw apple cider vinegar and water
  2. You will need to wring out all the excess water, before wrapping the towel on the thumb that is affected
  3. Leave it wrapped for ten minutes
  4. Try and repeat the process a few times each day
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Black Tea Bags

Black tea bags come loaded with antioxidants, as well as tannins. The two ingredients help in reducing swelling and ensuring that fluids do not begin to build up in the area that is affected.

Tea bags can also be used to help in shrinking the blood vessels while tightening the skin around the thumb

Directions

  1. Use a tea bag to brew a cup of strong tea
  2. Once ready, remove the bag from the water and place it in the refrigerator for at least fifteen minutes
  3. Take the cold tea bag and place it on your swollen thumb for ten minutes
  4. Ensure you repeat this process a few times each day until the swelling goes away

Reduce Your Salt Intake

High sodium or salt intake is another factor that is known to cause swelling in different parts of the body, including the thumbs.

When you have high amounts of sodium in the body, your skin ends up retaining excess fluids, and this will in turn cause swelling to occur because of edema.

When you limit your overall salt intake, you reduce the chances of the body retaining the excess fluids. It is recommended that you consume about a single teaspoon of salt each day.

You can reduce your salt intake by:

  1. Choosing to eat at home instead of eating out will ensure that you get to control the amount of salt that goes to your food
  2. For you to add flavor to food that is bland, consider using seasonings and other herbs
  3. Always remember that foods such as bread, cottage cheese and salad dressings provide your body with additional salt

Additional Tips

  1. Ensure you maintain a moderate temperature in the home or office as this will encourage better circulation in the body
  2. You should not expose your swollen thumb to very cold temperatures as this may lead to additional swelling
  3. The injured thumb should be rested to help in accelerating the process of healing
  4. If possible, try using a splint to protect the thumb that has been injured

Swollen Thumb Treatment

X-rays are used to show whether your thumb is broken or not. A hand specialist will take your hand and examine it to determine whether there are torn ligaments or not. Some tears will need the use of a cast or a splint. For some tears, surgery may be needed.

In a case where the thumb injury is chronic, there is a probability that the ligament may refuse to heal, even when treatment has been applied. For such cases, a new ligament can be created using a tendon. If the joint has arthritis, there may be a need to fuse the joint.

Physical Therapy

Treating a swollen thumb using physical therapy will involve exercising, modalities, as well as mobilizations. If you want to use physical therapy care, you must look for someone who has been certified.

Therapists with CHT certification have extra training, which they can apply in treating related hand injuries.

For the thumb, physical therapy will include modalities such as ultrasound and ice therapy. An ultrasound will help n increasing the temperature of the tissues, and this will promote healing. Phonophoresis is another type of ultrasound that can also be used in treating an injured thumb. It is a type of ultrasound that will use a gel, containing an inflammatory property to help in reducing the inflammation present on your thumb.

Another modality that can be used is known as Iontophoresis. The modality utilizes medication and anti-inflammatory properties. However, it is important to note that it will rely on the use of electrodes for it to administer the medication to the affected thumb area.

In cases where the thumb may have lost its mobility because of thumb arthritis, joint mobilizations will be needed. Your therapist will need to manually glide and slide this joint to help in restoring the mechanics that are normally present in your joint.

Alternatively, consider opting for exercises. Exercises are important in that they will help in restoring mobility and the function in your thumb. Strengthening exercises, dexterity, and motion ranges are a vital component in physical care therapy.

When you are performing any type of exercise, ensure that the exercises do not cause you any pain. Additional pain to an inflamed and swollen thumb may increase the inflammation, and this will mess with the healing procedure.

Finally, if the treatment becomes ineffective, you will need to undergo surgery to help deal with this problem. It is always recommended that you begin by trying out the home remedies that have been discussed above, before trying out other treatments. The natural remedies will help with the inflammation and ensure that you do not experience any pain because of this inflammation.

References

  1. http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/highland-park/community/chi-ugc-article-5-main-causes-you-must-know-about-thumb-joint-2014-05-15-story.html
  2. http://www.simple-remedies.com/alternative-therapies/swollen-thumb-causes-treatment.html
  3. http://handtoelbow.com/swelling/
  4. http://www.assh.org/handcare/Anatomy/Details-Page/ArticleID/39434/Thumb-Sprains
  5. http://www.foundrysportsmedicine.com/popular/2015/6/17/how-to-recognize-and-treat-finger-infections
  6. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/paronychia.html

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