Thumb arthritis sometimes called basal joint arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation and wear of the thumb joint. Of the two common types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is the kind that most commonly affects the thumb. Thumb arthritis treatment can begin at home with these conservative therapies that focus on reducing pain and inflammation.
As thumb arthritis progresses and becomes a chronic condition it’s important to incorporate the treatment options that your doctor orders.
Compression is another simple treatment that can provide significant results for those who suffer from thumb arthritis. You can use compression in a few ways, an elastic wrap, arthritis gloves, or splint. The pressure will give you a little extra support, keep your thumb and hands warm, and help reduce swelling.
If you suffer from thumb arthritis, wearing compression gloves during the day or even while you sleep can help provide targeted compression that reduces inflammation and stiffness. Most designs have open fingertips and grips so that you can still perform daily tasks or activities that cause flare-ups with the gloves on. Aim to wear your arthritis gloves for 8 hours to receive their full benefit.
Many people with arthritis of the thumb benefit from using adaptive equipment that allows them to put less strain on their thumb. Even something as simple as picking up an object requires you to use your thumb joint, potentially causing pain. A reacher grabber is a piece of adaptive equipment that can make your life easier. Use this to decrease pain and give your thumb a break.
Other adaptive equipment for thumb arthritis that many people find helpful are jar opens, easy-grip utensils, zipper pulls, and buttoning aids. These items should be kept within reach to allow you to get the best use out of them.
An easy treatment that can help during the early stages of thumb arthritis is cold therapy. Place an ice pack over the base of the thumb for 20 minutes at a time several times a day. The cold will numb your pain and reduce swelling. If you are finding that your thumb is stiff, change over from cold therapy to heat.
A heating pad, warm shower, or even a warm towel can reduce thumb stiffness and soothe the soreness associated with arthritic hands. Try using heat in the evening before bed and in the morning when you are feeling tight and stiff. Just like an ice pack, use heat for 20 minutes at a time (you can go longer, just watch out for skin irritation).
A topical pain cream is a treatment option that works best when used in conjunction with other therapies. The cream will provide temporary pain relief from arthritis, especially in people who are active with their hands for work or activities. Simply rub the topical cream into the painful area of your hand and thumb and the cream will relax your muscles as it also numbs the pain.
Splints and braces work similarly to reduce the movement in your thumb joint to allow for healing and prevent further damage to the CMC joint. A thumb brace or splint will immobilize your thumb serving as a constant reminder to avoid movement, reduce strain, and add necessary joint support. You can wear the splint periodically during the day or overnight.
Thumb arthritis causes stiffness and can reduce the range of motion within your thumb joint. Incorporating exercises into your treatment plan can improve your movement and keep the pain away. If you are experiencing significant pain you will likely need to hold off on exercising and wait for your symptoms to subside. Reach out to your doctor or physical therapist for guidance on when the timing of your exercise program.
Some people find that diet changes can help manage their arthritis symptoms. Foods with anti-inflammatory properties may reduce swelling and incorporate antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E might reduce future damage to the joint. The Mediterranean diet highlights foods that are both nutritious and anti-inflammatory--whole grains, fish, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. A diet like this will benefit not only your arthritic thumb but the rest of your body as well.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can help with thumb pain and swelling. These medications are generally well-tolerated and easy to find. There are several prescription medications available that your doctor may prescribe. Talk to your doctor to find out what might work for you.
Corticosteroid injections use a powerful steroid medication that is injected directly into the joint. This steroid injection will reduce swelling and pain for a period of time. While these injections can be very successful they will not cure your arthritis and can only be given a certain number of times. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of cortisone to help you decide what is best for you.
When nonsurgical treatments are not successful in treating the pain then your doctor may suggest surgery. An orthopedic surgeon will evaluate your thumb and likely order x-rays or other diagnostic imaging. There are several types of surgery to alleviate thumb arthritis: bone fusion, partial reconstruction, and full joint reconstruction. Recovery will be dependent on the type of surgery you undergo and the severity of your arthritis.
Thumb arthritis doesn’t have to cause significant life changes. With simple home treatments like splints, ice, heat, and medication you can reduce your pain and enjoy all your favorite activities. If home treatments don’t completely manage to alleviate your symptoms then your doctor may suggest a steroid injection or surgery. Whichever route you take, we hope that you find one that works best for you and your situation.
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