Osteoarthritis of the thumb is a common condition affecting both males and females, however is more common in the female population. It commonly occurs with age and is caused by a narrowing of the joint space and a breakdown of the padding, called cartilage, that covers the ends of the bones at the base of your thumb, also known as the carpometacarpal joint (CMCJ).
Thumb arthritis is often very painful during both activity and at rest and can cause swelling, decreased range of motion and reduced strength. Simple tasks such as turning on a tight tap, opening a jar or holding your phone can become difficult.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the thumb and is caused by a gradual breakdown of the cartilage at the ends of the bone. This leads to the bones rubbing together, friction and joint damage. It usually occurs as part of the natural aging process and is most common in adults over 50. Previous trauma to the thumb can also cause osteoarthritis.
Other risk factors may include:
Pain is generally the first symptom of thumb arthritis. People can experience pain with gripping pinching, holding an object with pressure on the thumb or even at rest. People can also experience a decreased range of motion of the thumb with a distorted appearance, often appearing large and “boney” at the base of the thumb.
Other symptoms include:
Early stages of thumb arthritis are best treated by a combination of non-invasive and non-surgical techniques. Treatment involves exercises, joint protection techniques, splints and medications.
If your thumb arthritis is severe you may require invasive treatments such as steroid injections or surgery.
To help alleviate symptoms therapy can:
Your hand therapist can provide you with a splint. Splinting is the mainstay of conservative management of an unstable and painful thumb. The splint may be used during the day for functional tasks, at rest or both to help:
To help relieve pain and/or inflammation your doctor might recommend trying:
If pain is still persisting after trying conservative management techniques your doctor or surgeon may suggest a long acting cortico-steroid injection directly into the joint at the base of your thumb. Like oral medications this can help reduce pain and inflammation.
If you haven’t responded to any of the mentioned treatment options and pain and reduced movement are significantly impacting your ability to function your doctor or surgeon may recommend surgery. Surgical options include:
In some instances thumb arthritis is a result of trauma to the joint. There is also a genetic predisposition and other factors that are not always preventable. However, there are a number of ways you can protect your thumb joint against thumb arthritis or reduce the severity of the disease if you are in one of the risk categories or are in the early stages.
Our experienced therapists can help you manage your symptoms and slow the progress of this condition. We teach you joint protection techniques, prescribe exercises to improve stability and strength and recommend splints to rest and support your painful thumb. All of our clinic locations have modalities such as the paraffin wax bath which may also assist with pain relief.
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