What Are the Common Causes of Thumb Swelling?

Hands of woman with arthritis.
Thumbs texting on phone.
Thumb in bowling ball.
A wrist injury may cause the thumb to swell.
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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2014
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Thumb swelling can be caused by many different factors. It may be caused by a preexisting disorder, such as arthritis, tendonitis, or bursitis, or by injury from trauma, repeated use, or an insect or animal bite. Most thumb injuries are mild and heal on their own, but if symptoms are severe, a medical professional may be needed to treat the swelling.

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of thumb swelling. Osteoarthritis can occur in the thumb for a variety of reasons, ranging from normal wear and tear to overuse of the basal joint, which is just above the wrist and is responsible for thumb movement. Symptoms range from mild to severe, including swelling, stiffness, and pain.

Thumb tendonitis is another potential cause of swelling. It is caused when the tendons at the base of the thumb become irritated, typically from repeated, uncomfortable movement of the hands and wrists. One of the most common causes of thumb tendonitis is all of the difficult and unusual hand positions that are required for a new mother to take care of her infant.

Burstitis is a similar, somewhat less common, cause of thumb swelling. It is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sac located between the bones and tendons or muscles around them. This sac forms a sort of cushion against the hard surface of the bone. Bursitis can be very painful.


Trauma injuries to the hand or wrist may also cause the thumb to swell, as can fractures in the bones of the thumb. X-rays will be necessary to detect any broken bones, although difficulty moving the thumb may indicate a fracture. A joint sprain is another fairly common injury that can cause a swollen thumb.

Bowlers may also experience thumb problems, as swelling may occur due to repeated use, placing the thumb into the holes of the bowling ball. The stress to the fingers when the ball leaves the hand can cause some swelling and even a little soreness. This is generally nothing to worry about, as bowling rarely causes injury, but individuals with severe pain should see a medical professional.

Any repeated activity involving the thumb can cause it to swell. Text messaging is one example of an activity that can cause swelling and even pain due to overuse. Playing an instrument that uses the thumbs a lot can have the same effect.

Animal or insect bites are another common cause of thumb swelling. Other common symptoms of these bites are itching, redness, and sometimes pain. The swelling indicates that the body is reacting to venom, or it could also be caused by inflammation due to tissue damage.


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