Thumb Pain in Bowing Hand

A few minutes into each fiddle practice session I begin to get thumb pain at the base of my thumb in my bowing hand. The pain is an aching and tenderness in the fleshy area at the base of my thumb. Once it starts, I have to keep resting my bowing hand.

Thumb arthritis is common with aging and occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of the bones that form the joint at the base of the thumb. It is commonly called CMC (named for the bones at the base of the thumb) or Basal Joint Arthritis. The basal joint allows the thumb to move around performing motor tasks. With a decrease in the cushioning cartilage, this pain usually occurs when trying to grip, pinch, or clasp something between my thumb and index finger. I have it in both hands, but it bothers me more in my right hand as I hold my bow.

Holding the bow too tightly is a common affliction for beginners, and I am not immune to this. It is something I have to constantly think about and work on since I notice it can bring the discomfort on faster. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen can bring some relief by decreasing the swelling. Even Acetaminophen, while it won’t help with the swelling, can help with the pain. Ice is also helpful in reducing swelling. Stronger prescription medications can be used if the condition is severe, and surgery can be performed as a last resort. There are also exercises I can do to help alleviate and/or delay the onset of the pain and discomfort, and it is these I am choosing to concentrate on at this time.

Five Basal Joint Exercises

  • Thumb Stretch – uses the opposite hand to gently stretch the thumb away from the palm.
  • Opposition – rotating and turning the thumb to touch each fingertip.
  • Palmer Abduction – making an “L” shape between the thumb and index finger.
  • Radial Abduction – with palm flat on a hard surface, move the thumb away from the fingers.
  • Thumb Lift – with palm flat on a hard surface, lift the thumb upwards

Here is a one minute video illustrating each of these exercises. I will be adding this to my daily stretching routine.


What about you? Do you suffer from thumb pain in your bowing hand? What have you found that helps?


  3 comments for “Thumb Pain in Bowing Hand

  1. February 21, 2019 at 11:15 am

    Hmm… I’ve had pain across my entire bowing hand, but not in the particular spot that you’re describing. I do have to take breaks from playing and shake out both of my hands from time to time. I’m getting more used to the bow hold, but still have to give my left hand a break more often. I’m going to guess this will get better with practice — it’s already a whole lot better than when I first started!

    • February 21, 2019 at 11:19 am

      I’m sitting here right now counting out pledge forms for a fundraiser I am putting together for a local school (part of my home biz), and I have the pain so bad in each thumb from counting the forms, that I had to stop. Mine has gotten worse since I started, not better. That’s why I want to try some exercises for it.

    • Stewart H Holder
      September 21, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      Dear Aywren, Please see my replies to MoonShadows on the subject of Handcramping especially that mentioning Kato Havas’ New Approach to Relaxed Violin Playing…it really does work and there are Representatives in the US. Have a look at the Kato Havas Website for her New Approach. Please let me know if you need any further information.
      Best wishes Stewart.

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