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Is This Serious? Why Are My Thumbs Clicking, Cracking or Popping?

pt HealthIs this serious?, Pain

First things first: if your thumb joint is swollen, hot, and inflamed you should seek medical care immediately, as this could be a sign of a severe infection.

Have you been hearing clicking, cracking or popping when you move your thumb – or thumbs?

There could be any number of reasons why your thumbs are making these noises when you bend them, including de Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, ulnar collateral ligament injury, or joint osteoarthritis, to name a few.

But today, we’ll discuss a common cause of thumb clicking: trigger thumb (or if it’s in your fingers, trigger fingers).

If you’re seeking medical care for your symptoms, find a physiotherapy clinic near you and book an assessment for clicking thumbs today.

What is Trigger Thumb?

In a normally functioning hand, tendons run through sheaths or pulleys to the fingers to make them bend.

With trigger thumb, medically known as stenosing tenosynovitis, the tendon sheaths (a tunnel-like structure that holds the tendon to the bone) become inflamed and thickened, making it difficult for the tendon to smoothly glide through the sheath to bend the affected finger.

As a result, the affected digit becomes stiff and painful, with most people feeling a locking or catching feeling when they bend their thumb.

What are Symptoms of Trigger Thumb?

Trigger thumb is a progressive condition, meaning it can get worse if not treated.

Early symptoms of trigger thumb include painless clicking when moving the thumb. As the condition progresses, the clicking is painful with a catching or popping sensation.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Stiffness and swelling (especially in the morning)
  • Inability to fully flex or extend the thumb
  • Thumb locked in a flexed position
  • A painful, tender bump on the palm (known as a nodule) at the base of the affected thumb
  • Pain that radiates to the palm
  • A popping, snapping or clicking sensation when you move your thumb
  • Your thumb catches or locks in a bent position, then suddenly goes straight
  • Your thumb locks in a bent position, and you can’t straighten it
  • Pain when you bend or straighten your thumb that improves with movement and worsens with rest

Any combination of these symptoms could be a sign you have trigger thumb. We recommend an assessment by a qualified physiotherapist to be sure.

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What Causes Trigger Thumb?

There is much discussion about the actual cause of trigger thumb, with no firm conclusion.

However, some factors put you at a higher risk of developing the condition, including:

  • Hobbies that require repetitive hand use, movements and gripping such as playing an instrument, prolonged writing, rocking climbing or any hobby that requires the prolonged holding of a small tool
  • Jobs that require extensive or forceful hand use include long-distance truck driving, farming, and industrial workers
  • Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout can increase your chances of developing trigger thumb
  • Your gender, trigger thumb is more common in women
  • Your age, trigger thumb is more common in people aged 40 to 60 years
  • Complications from carpal tunnel syndrome surgery – trigger finger is a known complication that can happen during the first six months after carpal tunnel surgery

If you have these risk factors and are experiencing clicking or other symptoms similar to trigger thumb, book an assessment with a physiotherapist near you today.

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How is Trigger Thumb Treated?

Physiotherapy treatment for trigger thumb aims to reduce pain, improve your range of motion, and break down scar tissue that may have formed.

Depending on the severity of your condition and how long you’ve had symptoms, your physiotherapist may use the following treatments:

  • Therapeutic ultrasound to break down scar tissue and reduce pain
  • Soft tissue work to break down scar tissue
  • Massage therapy to increase blood flow
  • Stretches and exercises to improve range of motion
  • Tendon gliding exercises to reduce pain and improve movement
  • Patient education and activity modification to ease symptoms
  • Rest and avoidance of repetitive gripping until symptoms improve

Book A Physiotherapy Assessment for Clicking Thumbs

Evidence suggests that physiotherapy is an effective treatment for trigger thumb. A study of 48 children with trigger thumb shows that daily exercises resulted in an 80% cure rate.

If you’re concerned about symptoms of a trigger thumb or clicking thumbs, book an appointment with a qualified physiotherapist to get a full assessment and treatment plan in place.

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