What Can Cause Thumb Numbness?

A cross-section of a ganglion cyst, which can cause thumb numbness.
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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Image By: Morten Amundsen
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Compression neuropathy is the most common cause of thumb numbness. This condition is typically caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, or long-standing arthritis of the hand and wrist. In addition to thumb numbness, compression neuropathy can also cause the hand to tingle and burn. Thumb numbness is usually cured by the diagnosis and treatment of the underlying medical issue.

Carpal tunnel patients often report waking up with a numb thumb and several numb fingers. They sometimes mistakenly attribute the condition to sleeping on the affected hand. Relief is sometimes found by shaking and moving the thumb and hand until feeling is restored.

The wrist bones, also called carpal bones, join the ligaments to create a tunnel along the wrist and into the hand. A median nerve connecting the wrist and fingers runs through this tunnel. When injury or disease causes the tunnel to compress, pressure is put on the median nerve. The result is usually carpal tunnel syndrome, which includes thumb numbness and tingling.

A history of arthritis in the wrists, thumbs, or hands can also cause compression neuropathy. Arthritis spurs form along the carpal bones and trap the median nerve. The result is numbness and tingling in the fingers and thumb. Swelling of the thumb joint often accompanies the numbness when arthritis is the culprit. Gout and other arthritis-connected disorders all have the ability to cause thumb numbness.

Some cases of a numb thumb are not caused by issues in the thumb or wrist. Instead, injuries to the forearm create pressure that in turn causes the thumb to go numb. Ganglion cysts, if positioned near the nerves in the arm or hand, can also make the thumb numb. In addition, diseases related to the blood vessels have the ability to cause thumb numbness.

A medical condition called a double crush can also cause thumb numbness. In this condition, nerves are compressed in two different areas of the neck, arm, wrist, or hand, causing the thumb to go numb. For example, a compressed nerve in the wrist as well as one in the neck qualifies as a double-crush injury and can cause the thumb to feel numb.

Diagnosis of persistent thumb numbness should be made by a medical professional. Finding the cause and correcting it will typically cure the problem. Wrist braces, surgery, and physical therapy are among possible treatments for the underlying cause.

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