Thumb Arthritis

Arthritis is commonly caused by inflammation in the lining of the joints, which in addition to pain, may result in stiffness, swelling and loss of movement in the affected joints. Arthritis of the thumb, also known as basal joint arthritis, occurs when the cartilage of the thumb joint (carpometacarpal joint) wears away from the bone. This cartilage normally acts as a cushion between the bone and the joint, and when it is worn away, the direct contact and friction between the bones causes pain, swelling, decreased strength and range of motion. Arthritis of the thumb may cause difficulty in performing simple tasks such as turning doorknobs, opening jars, and pinching or gripping items.

Causes of Thumb Arthritis

The exact cause of arthritis of the thumb is unknown, however prior fractures or injuries to the carpometacarpal joint may make this condition more likely to occur. This joint may also be more susceptible to arthritis because of its frequent use. Arthritis of the thumb is also more common in women than men and often occurs over the age of 40. Some research indicates that it may be a genetic condition.

Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis

While cartilage usually covers the ends of the bones and allows them to move smoothly, arthritic joints have deteriorated cartilage that does not protect the bones causing them to rub against each other, causing friction and pain. Arthritis of the thumb causes pain in the base of the thumb when gripping, grasping or pinching an object, or when applying force. Some individuals may also experience pain during sleep or even when the thumb is not in use. Other symptoms of arthritis of the thumb may include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Decreased strength
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Bony joint appearance

Treatment of Thumb Arthritis

Arthritis of the thumb is commonly treated with a combination of methods. Splints may be used to support the thumb joint and limit movement. Medication may be used to treat pain and may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Corticosteroid injections

Physical therapy may be a successful form of treatment for some patients. Severe cases may require arthroscopic surgery to repair joints or debride damaged tissue, or arthroplasty to fuse, reposition or replace the joint.

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