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thumb pain

Thumb Problems

Some Anatomy

The thumb is a very mobile joint. This mobility gives the hand much of its functional ability, but the mobility also makes the thumb susceptible to injury.

  • Abduction: with the palm facing upward, moving the thumb so that it points up.
  • Adduction: the reverse of abduction, bringing the thumb back to the palm.
  • Extension: moving the thumb away from the index finger, like a hitchhiker.
  • Flexion: bending the thumb across the palm.
  • Opposition: moving the thumb so that the tip of the thumb can touch the tip of another finger.

Some Symptoms and Syndromes

Thumb pain and discomfort is a common computer operator complaint. Symptoms are often felt at the base of the thumb and at the wrist where various thumb tendons travel. Prolonged mouse use can often cause thumb discomfort. Holding the mouse in a very "tight" grip between the thumb and the 4th and 5th fingers can cause thumb discomfort. Aggressive striking of the keyboard space bar with the thumb can also contribute to thumb pain.

Thumb problems can include:

  • Tingling.
  • Weakness, such as difficulty picking up and holding things.
  • Numbness.
  • Pain in the thumb or back or side of the wrist.

What people find helpful

Non-grip Mouse
Many people have found that a mouse that does not have to be held between the thumb and fingers, such as the RollerMouse Re:d, helps to accommodate thumb problems.

Intersection Syndrome

  • Intersection Syndrome is a painful condition that affects the thumb side of the forearm.
  • This is where two muscles cross over - or intersect - two underlying wrist tendons.
  • The upper muscle group tendons connect with the thumb to pull it away from the hand - and the lower set of tendons bends back, or extends, the wrist.
  • Cause: Irritation of the two tendons (tenosynovitis).
  • Symptoms: Swelling and redness may occur over the area where the two tendons rub against one another - at the intersection point. Pain can spread down to the thumb or back up along the thumb side of the forearm. Movement may be restricted. Intersection Syndrome can be confused with DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis.
What people find helpful
Rockstick Mouse

Ambidextrous Mouse
Many people have found that a mouse that can be held with either hand, such as the Rockstick Mouse, helps to reduce thumb problems by alternating mouse movements between hands.

DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis

  • Pain on the side of the wrist and forearm just above the thumb
  • Cause: The two tendons that pull the thumb out and back from the hand are causing this discomfort. These two tendons run in a tunnel on the side of the wrist just above the thumb. When these tendons become inflammed they have difficulty moving through the tunnel, which causes pain.
  • Symptoms: Pain at the base of the thumb that may also radiate up towards the elbow.

Solutions to Consider

Before proceding to change your keyboard and mouse, consider your posture. Making improvements in posture can help you deal with problems in other areas, such as your thumb.

  • How are you sitting; what is the height of your desk?
  • Do you have to perch on the edge of your chair, or are you slouching?
  • Are you twisting your neck to read a document?
  • Are you twising your neck to hold the telephone while you type?

These and other issues should be considered when addressing thumb problems.

  • Mouse: The mouse is the main culprit when dealing with thumb problems. Here are some alternatives to consider:

    • Change the hand you are using to operate the mouse, or alternate between hands. There are a number of ambidextrous mice available.

    • Consider a mouse that does not require you to hold your wrist in full pronation, such as a contoured or vertical mouse.

      The Handshoe mouse is contoured and does not require a static grip.

      Penguin Ambidextrous Vertical Mouse

      The Penguin Ambidextrous Vertical Mouse is a vertical mouse that greatly reduces the stress on the thumb.

    • Trackballs are stationary mice that do not have to held while operating. If you are considering a trackball, avoid models that force you to use the thumb to move the ball. Choose a trackball that has the ball centrally located so that it can be manupulated with your fingers or palm. Also consider positioning the mouse in a central location so that it can be operated with either hand.

      Thumb-operated trackball

      If you have thumb problems, avoid trackballs where the ball can only be operated by the thumb.

      Expert Mouse Optical
      If you have thumb problems, opt for a trackball with a centrally located ball. This allows you to move the ball with a finger, thumb, palm, elbow, etc. Image is of a Kensington Expert Mouse.

      Freestyle Keyboard with L-Trac Trackball

      Freestyle adjustable-split keyboard with an L-Trac mouse positioned between the two keyboard halves. The mouse can easily be operated by either left or right hand.

    • A touchpad is another form of stationary mouse that does not need to be held.

      Smart Cat Touchpad

      A Smart Cat Tourchpad.

    • A RollerMouse is another stationary mouse that does not need to be held. Hand, RollerMouse Free2and Keyboard positions

    • A mouse operated by a different part of your body, such as a head-operated mouse, may work, although head-operated mice are not for everybody.

      SmartNav 4


  • Keyboard
    • Consider an adjustable keyboard that allows you to position the keyboard halves to reduce thumb travel and exertion.

      Matias Ergo Pro

      Ergo Pro Keyboard