I’m All Thumbs and They Hurt!

Thumbs are the kind of body part we never think about until something goes wrong. If you have ever hurt your thumb, you realize that we use them to do absolutely everything. They are, after all, one of the main features that separates us from other forms of life. There is in fact a reason I have never seen a cat texting.

I remember having pain in my thumbs and wrists when having to lift my kids out of the crib. There is something about the angle of reaching over the railing and then hooking under those tiny little armpits that makes things very awkward. You would think that as a physiotherapist I would know better, but I let things get painful before I thought about how to do certain tasks a bit differently. Sleep deprivation can do amazing things to a once-functional brain.

Use Your Whole Hand, not Just Your Thumbs

One simple strategy for saving your thumbs is to make sure that when you pick up your child you have your palms on them. This may seem a really dumb thing when you first read it, but next time you pick your little one up from the crib take note of whether or not you actually have your palms in full contact with their trunk BEFORE starting to lift up the weight. I bet you don’t. Most of us use our fingers and thumbs at first and only make contact with the palms once the heavy lifting has been done. This seems a small thing but can make a big difference in avoiding excessive stress on the smaller joints of the hands.

If you have a toddler, when they come up to you and stick their arms up in the universal pick-me-up sign, how do you do it? Most of us bend at the waist, stick our fingers under their armpits, dig our thumbs into the front of their shoulders and lift. No palms in sight. This puts a lot of stress on the fingers and thumbs. In order to make full contact with the palms before taking the weight, you have to bend your knees and get right down to eye level with your child. They key is to get your palms on the trunk first. Try and you’ll see that you cannot do this unless you squat down to their level.

Thumbs and Texting

In today’s electronically connected world, we are also often on mobile devices which can cause or aggravate problems with the thumbs. If you are often typing on your phone, just taking an extra second to turn the phone to landscape mode can make a difference. This puts the virtual keyboard at a slightly better angle and thus lessens the stress on the thumbs. It is such a small thing but, just like repeatedly picking up baby using your fingers and thumbs, typing in portrait mode takes its toll over time.

If you have upper back pain (which as you will see from this blog post is usually caused by instability in the hips and pelvis), this also puts your hands and wrists more at risk. Whenever one part of the body is having difficulty, more stress gets put elsewhere and can create a chain of injuries that is a challenge to break. I often see moms with several painful areas all of which are related.

While an ounce of prevention of worth a pound of cure, if you are already having pain, particularly if it is in multiple areas, seek help from someone who will look at your whole body and how everything is connected. After all, the thumb bone is effectively connected to the hip bone. Who knew?