Thumb arthritis, also known as basal thumb arthritis, is a common condition with the potential to severely complicate life. Even a mild case of arthritis in the thumb joint can make simple tasks seem insurmountable. Fortunately, there are a number of thumb arthritis treatment options to alleviate pain and reduce symptoms. Learning more about basal thumb arthritis and how to treat it is the first step. This article covers everything you need to know, helping you find the right solution for your lifestyle.
Arthritis in general is caused by the breakdown of cartilage between joints. Arthritis in the thumb is often referred to as basal thumb arthritis or CMC (carpometacarpal) arthritis and affects the joint at the base of the thumb. When arthritis develops in the thumb joint, it usually occurs at the base of the thumb, where the carpometacarpal joint is located.
Basal thumb arthritis affects the movement of the thumb, making actions such as grasping or forming a fist difficult and even painful.
This is the most common type of thumb arthritis and is also known as CMC (carpometacarpal) arthritis. It typically results from cartilage deterioration around the carpometacarpal joint, situated between the thumb metacarpal and the trapezium (one of the wrist bones). Most cases of arthritis in the thumb are linked to osteoarthritis, which is generally brought on by aging and wear and tear of joints and the surrounding cartilage.
Rheumatoid Thumb Arthritis
Although early stage rheumatoid thumb arthritis may present symptoms similar to osteoarthritis, RA is the result of an autoimmune disorder. Healthy cartilage is attacked and broken down by harmful antibodies. Rheumatoid arthritis affects multiple joints (often on both sides of the body) and is frequently accompanied by symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, and fever.
Common Causes of Thumb Arthritis
Anyone can develop arthritis in the thumb, but some people are at higher risk. Here are a few risk factors for thumb arthritis:
Some people are genetically predisposed to developing thumb arthritis. The estimated onset time of basal thumb arthritis can usually be determined by family medical history.
Unfortunately for women, females over the age of 40 account for the largest percentage of thumb arthritis sufferers and have been shown to be up to 20 times more likely to develop arthritis in the thumb than their male counterparts!
The older we get, the more likely we are to develop thumb arthritis. Over time, our cartilage—which cushions and lubricates our joints—wears down, eventually leading to arthritis.
Other Contributing Factors to Basal Thumb Arthritis
Apart from hereditary and genetic considerations, the following factors may increase susceptibility.
Particularly flexible basal thumb joints, also known as ligamentous laxity
Previous injury to the thumb, especially to the CMC joint
Unusual stress or excessive use of the thumb
Thumb Arthritis Symptoms
Early signs of basal thumb arthritis, such as pain and stiffness, are often overlooked or ignored until the condition becomes unbearable. Knowing the symptoms of thumb arthritis scan help you slow the deterioration of the cartilage.
Thumb Joint Pain
Tenderness and pain in the thumb joint are often the earliest indicators of basal thumb arthritis. This is usually felt at the base of the thumb when performing movements that require grasping or pinching.
Stiffness in the Thumb Joint
As the cartilage between joints wears away, most notice loss of mobility. Without the padding provided by cartilage, bone grinds against bone, resulting in joint stiffness.
Pain, stiffness, and inflammation can quickly lead to a decrease in strength. Tasks requiring a firm grip, such as opening jars or turning doorknobs, become increasingly difficult.
Thumb Base or Joint Swelling
Basal thumb arthritis often results in severe inflammation of the carpometacarpal joint, causing swelling around the base of the thumb and in the wrist. In some cases, swelling may become so pronounced that the base of the thumb appears to have a growth.
Thumb Arthritis Treatment
Try the following treatments to relieve the symptoms of your thumb arthritis. Of course, discuss any treatment regimen with your doctor.
Hot and Cold Therapy for Thumb Arthritis
Simple, inexpensive, and effective, both hot and cold treatments may provide quick relief from thumb arthritis symptoms.
Using a heating pad on affected areas soothes and loosens stiff joints by improving blood circulation to the area.
Cold therapy reduces swelling, and applying an ice pack to the inflamed area reduces pain by numbing nerve endings.
Thumb arthritis braces support the damaged CMC joint, reduce strain, and offer compression to slow the rate of deterioration. They also provide comfort and pain relief.
Thumb Arthritis Splint
Thumb splints work in much the same way as braces, but if you suffer from constant thumb arthritis pain, a splint that fully immobilizes the digit will provide added support and take strain off your thumb joint.
A thumb splint will prevent dangerous movement that can exacerbate your arthritis symptoms. ( See Product )
Medications for Thumb Arthritis
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines. Commonly recommended over-the-counter medications include:
Commonly prescribed pain relievers for basal thumb arthritis include:
These injections quickly reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief. They may be administered if the above medications do not relieve your pain. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor beforehand.
Thumb Arthritis Surgery
Doctors often recommend thumb arthritis surgery for particularly severe cases or for those who don't respond to alternative thumb arthritis treatments. The decision to undergo surgery for thumb arthritis should be discussed at length with your physician. Below are common thumb arthritis surgeries you may consider.
This procedure is generally best for those experiencing pre-arthritis symptoms or very early-stage basal thumb arthritis without cartilage loss. Ligament reconstruction involves removing the damaged ligament tissue and replacing it with a portion of the patient’s wrist flexor tendon, effectively stabilizing the CMC joint.
Ligament Reconstruction and Tendon Interposition (LRTI)
This is the most popular type of surgery for thumb arthritis and is a well-established procedure. Damaged joint surfaces are removed, and a cushion of tissue is inserted to keep the bones separated. To do this, surgeons partially or completely remove the trapezium (a wrist bone).
Total Joint Replacement
A straightforward procedure, total joint replacement surgery involves completely or partially removing the damaged thumb joint and replacing it with an artificial implant.
Basal Thumb Arthritis Surgery Recovery Time
Recovery time varies from person to person and depends on the specific procedure. In most cases, you will need to wear a thumb splint or brace for at least six weeks, after which you will begin working on your range of motion and flexibility.
By about three months after surgery, most patients experience little to no residual pain. Most return to regular activities after six months.
Thumb Arthritis Exercises
Gentle exercises may improve mobility. Consider these thumb exercises to relieve arthritis pain. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise or rehab regimen.
Start with a neutral, open hand and slowly bend your thumb across your palm until the tip touches the base of your pinky finger. Repeat 6 to 10 times with each hand.
Make a Fist
With your forearm and hand resting on a flat surface, straighten your hand with fingers close together (handshake position) before slowly and fluidly forming a loose fist. Make sure your thumb wraps around the outside of your fingers, and remember to keep it relaxed—no squeezing! Return to starting position and repeat 6 to 10 times with each hand.
Thumb to Fingertips
With your hand and fingers upright and close together, form a circle by touching the tip of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. Repeat this motion, touching the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger. Return to the starting position. Repeat 6 to 10 times with each hand.
While you might not be able to directly prevent or even cure thumb arthritis, you most certainly don't have to live in constant pain and discomfort. Whether you find one method that works for you or use a combination of the thumb arthritis treatments described above, you have plenty of resources to manage your thumb arthritis pain. Find a good thumb brace, and talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.
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