Thumb tendinitis can make daily tasks that are normally taken for granted difficult. You may have pain while writing, typing or texting on your phone. Thumb tendinitis is typically caused by overuse of the muscles that move your thumb. Stretching, range-of-motion and strengthening exercises can reduce pain and weakness caused by thumb tendinitis. If you suspect you have this condition or have thumb pain that interferes with your daily activities, see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Thumb stretches are performed using your uninjured hand to move the injured thumb. These exercises should not be painful. If you experience pain, you are stretching too far. Stretches are performed:
-- Out to the side, as if you are grabbing a coffee cup.
-- Straight up, as if you are hitchhiking.
-- Bending down toward the base of your pinky.
Holding your thumb with the fingers of your uninjured hand, slowly move your painful thumb into position until you feel a gentle pulling sensation. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat each stretching position 3 times, and perform the entire routine 2 to 3 times each day.
Range of Motion
Range-of-motion exercises help prevent stiffness of the thumb joint that can develop with thumb tendinitis. For these exercises, move your thumb into each position as you are able without pain. Range-of-motion exercises include:
-- Lifting your thumb up toward the ceiling.
-- Touching the tip of your thumb to the tip of each finger.
-- Moving your thumb out to the side.
-- Bending your thumb down toward the base of your pinky.
Perform each position 10 times, 2 to 3 times each day.
Isometric exercises generate muscle force without changing the position of your thumb. These exercises help maintain thumb strength without further straining your inflamed tendons. Apply gentle pressure to the back of your thumb with the index and middle fingers of your uninjured hand. Slowly lift your thumb toward the ceiling while pressing down with your fingers to match the resistance of your thumb lifting. Your thumb should not move. Hold for 6 seconds, then relax. Repeat 5 times once daily. Apply resistance to the front, outside and inside of your thumb using the same technique to strengthen muscles that move your thumb in each of these directions.
Once you are able to perform isometric exercises without pain, you may be ready to progress to resistance exercises. Resistance putty can be used to strengthen muscles that move your thumb in all directions. Perform each of these movements 10 times:
-- Press your thumb down into the putty.
-- Loop the putty over your thumb and lift up toward the ceiling.
-- Loop the putty around your thumb and pull it out to the side.
-- Place the putty between your thumb and the base of your index finger and press in toward the side of your hand.
Work up to 3 sets in a row, 2 times per day. As your strength improves, use stronger putty.
Warnings and Precautions
See a medical professional before attempting thumb exercises if your pain is the result of a direct injury. Seek immediate attention if your thumb appears deformed, will not move or feels numb. Exercises may worsen some conditions, such as a broken bone. See your doctor if your thumb pain persists longer than a few days or if it interferes with your ability to do daily tasks.
- Brigham and Women's Hospital: Standard of Care: de Quervain’s Syndrome: Nonoperative Management
- Oxford University Hospitals: DeQuervain's Tenosynovitis - Inflammation of the Tendons of the Thumb
- Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association: Conservative Care of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis/Tendinopathy in a Warehouse Worker and Recreational Cyclist: A Case Report
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital: Thumb Exercises: Passive & Assistive
- Northwestern Memorial Hospital: Thumb Exercises: Active Motion
- Oklahoma State University Medical Center: Thera-Putty Exercises
- American Family Physician: Evaluation and Diagnosis of Wrist Pain: A Case-Based Approach