How Thumb Injuries Occur

By Ben Benjamin , PhD
2018-9-4

Digital Exclusive

How Thumb Injuries Occur

By Ben Benjamin , PhD
2018-9-4

Digital Exclusive

The thumb can be injured suddenly, through trauma, or gradually, through wear and tear repetitive strain. Many massage and bodywork techniques emphasize the use of the thumbs, however it's easy to overuse this important part of the body. Thumb injuries can force some practitioners into premature retirement; the average manual therapist stays in the profession for just 5–7 years, and the primary reason for leaving is a work-related injury.

Damage and injury to the collateral ligaments can happen in many ways. Activities like construction work involving the repetitive use of jackhammers, hammers, electric saws or other tools, as well as painting and carpentry, can put enormous stress on the thumbs. Young mothers often get injured when they place their thumbs under their infants' or toddlers' armpits to gain leverage to lift them, many times per day. Various sports can contribute to the damage of the collateral ligaments including skiing, especially during a fall. Any forceful impact to the thumb can also cause this type of injury.

The thumb abductor and extensor tendons commonly get injured as the result of doing many hours of computer work. We use the thumb abductors and extensors whenever we hit the space bar—which is one of the most consistent things we do as we type.

The flexor muscle-tendon units are also easy to overuse; we rely on them virtually all day, every day. They're active in countless routine motions, from turning the handle on a door to picking something up off the floor to doing the dishes.

In racket sports, we use our thumb flexor muscles to hold the racket firmly when we strike the ball. If our grip is too loose and we suddenly tighten it, the flexors get strained. Or if we grip tightly all the time, as many athletes do, we get fatigued and increase our risk of injury. The thumb flexors are commonly overused by massage and bodywork professionals, as well as by individuals in the construction industry, who need to continually grip tools and materials with their thumbs.

Any injuries to the tendons and muscles that control the wrist, the hand and fingers can take a long time to heal, because it's difficult to avoid using our hands in our daily activities.