Thumb pain from work – Why??
Do you have thumb pain during or after work? This is a very common complaint we see in the clinic. So why does it happen?
Thumb pain that develops gradually is often a condition called De Quervains tenosynovitis. It can be a very painful condition that affects the tendons in your thumb.
De Quervains tenosynovitis is a common overuse thumb injury. It can affect anyone, although it tends to affect people who do repetitive tasks. It can be further aggravated by swelling and hormonal changes such as during pregnancy. Repetitive tasks include anything that you repeat lots of times in a day, such as picking up bricks, typing, repetitive gripping tasks, or anything you do for long periods of time. The smaller the movement, the quicker it can lead to ‘overload’, so something small like scrolling on your phone can irritate quickly too!
We often treat thumb pain in chefs, electricians, bricklayers, pregnant women and childcare educators. All these jobs require elements of fine motor activities, and lots of the same task repeated throughout the day.
De Quervains tenosynovitis can occur at any time. Generally it can be linked with a change in the amount of doing a repetitive task. This might be when you start a new role at work, or the demands of your role change. Sometimes thumb pain can be triggered when the amount you’re doing of a specific task stays the same, but there’s other contributing factors such as fatigue or stress.
What is De Quervains tenosynovitis?
De Quervains tenosynovitis is characterised by pain and tenderness along the inner wrist and thumb. Sometimes swelling can be visible in these areas too. It is a condition where there is irritation, with subsequent inflammation of the thumb extensor tendon. The painful movements tend to include the ‘thumbs up’ position, bending your thumb to your palm, and lifting tasks, especially when palms face in towards each other (with the thumb pointing upward). You may experience thumb pain from typing, thumb pain from lifting, or thumb pain from gripping.
What causes these injuries?
During contraction of the wrist or forearm muscles, tension is placed through the tendons. When this tension is excessive due to too much repetition or high force, irritation to the tendons may occur. De Quervains tenosynovitis is a condition whereby there is irritation, with subsequent inflammation to one or more of the wrist and thumb tendons.
Is thumb pain common?
Thumb pain can be common. Many of our day to day tasks can be repetitive, whether it’s working at the computer for a whole day, or working hard paving an outdoor area. Thumb pain tends to arise when the task overloads the persons capacity. In some cases, the task is out of the ordinary e.g. spending your weekend gardening, when you don’t normally do this much, and your body is not conditioned to so much time in the garden.
In other cases, where the task is familiar, and you perform it often, the injury can come from fatigue, or a slow decline in strength over many months. Our bodies are excellent at adapting to what we do regularly. Our strength in any area of the body is continually adapting, so suit what we need
If you don’t use it, you lose it!
For many people that don’t do specific strength or gym training, their strength with gradually reduce until it matches the required strength for theirday to day tasks. This is where the problem can arise, as the demands of the job can sneak above the capacity of the worker.
What can I do to prevent these injuries?
The key to prevention of De Quervains tenosynovitis is:
- Limit the aggravating tasks
- Manage swelling and fluid retention where relevant
- Stretching forearm muscles regularly
- Keep the wrist and forearm warm on cold training days
- Building strength through your trunk, shoulder, forearm and wrist
Thumb pain – How can Physio Treatment help?
What can I do if I have thumb pain?
A Physiotherapy Assessment is a good place to start. This will identify where the issue is coming from, so treatment can be targeted and effective.
Initially treatment involves relative rest as much as possible and relevant stretches. In many cases you will need physiotherapy treatment, including massage, dry needling and taping to help recovery. Occasionally the use of a wrist splint can help and anti-inflammatory medication. Conservative physiotherapy management can generally provide relief in 2 to 6 weeks.
Treatment may vary from person to person, depending on the current aggravating tasks, timeframe of current symptoms, and current strength level. Some injuries can take longer to heal when an injury has been there for a longer timeframe.
Are you having trouble with thumb pain during or after work?
Book in to see one of our Physios at Aspire to be fully assessed. We can commence treatment immediately to ease your pain. Find out what you specifically need to do to overcome your symptoms. You can book online here.