What causes thumb pain?

Disease or injury to any part of your thumb can result in thumb pain. Symptoms may arise from neuromuscular conditions, inflammatory conditions, infections, or diseases that affect the blood flow to the thumbs.

In addition, thumb pain can be caused by underlying conditions that involve the body as a whole, such as diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy, a disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord, when it is associated with diabetes can lead to damage of one or more of the nerves in the thumb, resulting in pain, numbness, and a tingling or burning sensation.

Traumatic causes of thumb pain

A number of common injuries, either to the thumbs or to the nerves that provide feeling and movement to the thumbs, can cause thumb pain. Examples include:

  • Bite or sting injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Dislocation of bones
  • Herniated disc
  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as of the ulnar nerve
  • Overuse injury
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendon rupture

Inflammatory causes of thumb pain

Inflammation, including inflammation due to infection or arthritis, can cause symptoms that may be present in both thumbs, one thumb, or just a small part of a thumb. Examples include:

  • Abscess
  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying tissues)
  • Gout (type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Rash
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Tendinitis

Neuromuscular causes of thumb pain

A number of conditions that affect the muscles or nerves in the body can produce thumb pain. These conditions include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Dermatomyositis (a condition characterized by muscle inflammation and skin rash)
  • Raynaud’s disease (spasms of small blood vessels of the fingers and toes, reducing blood circulation; has no known cause)
  • Raynaud's phenomenom (spasms of small blood vessels of the fingers and toes, reducing blood circulation; secondary to another condition, such as an autoimmune disease)

Other causes of thumb pain

Other types of chronic diseases and conditions can lead to thumb pain. These disorders include:

  • Benign and malignant tumors
  • Blood clots
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis, stroke, heart attack, and other cardiac conditions)

Serious or life-threatening causes of thumb pain

In some cases, hand numbness (including the thumb), tingling, or weakness may be a symptom of a stroke, which is a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of thumb pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your thumb pain including:

  • How long have you had the pain in your thumb?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?
  • When do your symptoms occur?
  • Are your symptoms worsened or relieved by movement or specific activities?

What are the potential complications of thumb pain?

The potential complications of thumb pain depend on their cause. Getting prompt treatment of fractured bones, injuries, or infections can help you avoid serious complications, such as deformity or widespread infection. Thumb pain associated with serious medical conditions, such as stroke, may have long-term and even potentially life-threatening complications. Left untreated, conditions that cause thumb pain may lead to the following complications:

  • Abscess
  • Amputation
  • Joint deformity and destruction
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Acute finger injuries. Part I, tendons and ligaments. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0301/p810.html.
  2. Should your child see a doctor? Finger or toe injury. Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation. http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/finger-toe-injury/
  3. What Is Raynaud’s? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/raynaud/.

What is thumb pain?

Thumb pain can result from damage or injury to any of the structures in your thumb, including bones, joints, tendons, nerves, muscles, blood vessels, connective tissue, skin or fingernails. The symptoms may be constant or they may vary, and they may improve or worsen with movement. You might describe your thumb pain as sharp, dull, stabbing, burning or throbbing, ranging in intensity from mild ... Read more about thumb painintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with thumb pain?

Thumb pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that affect the thumb may also involve other systems of your body.

Traumatic symptoms that may occur along with thumb pain

Thumb pain may accompany other symptoms of trauma including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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