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Thumb pain

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

How you can ease thumb pain yourself

If you see a 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

  • 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 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

  • keep your thumb moving with gentle exercises

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

A pharmacist can help with thumb pain

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
  • if you need to see a GP

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the pain in your thumb is 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
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Immediate action required: Go to an urgent treatment centre or A&E 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
  • have lost the feeling in part or all of your hand

These might be signs of a broken thumb.

What we mean by severe pain
Severe pain:
  • always there and so bad it's hard to think or talk
  • you cannot sleep
  • it's very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress
Moderate pain:
  • always there
  • makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
  • you can manage to get up, wash or dress
Mild pain:
  • comes and goes
  • is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities

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

Do not worry if you're not sure what the problem is.

Follow the advice on this page and see a GP if the pain does not get better in 2 weeks.

Page last reviewed: 14 March 2022
Next review due: 14 March 2025