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Understanding Thumb Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people, and it can occur in various joints in the body. When it comes to the hand, one of the areas that can be affected is the base of the thumb. Imagine feeling pain from something as simple as turning a key or snapping your fingers. For many, this constant reminder is unbearable. This condition, known as thumb arthritis, can lead to pain, swelling, and reduced hand function. Let’s explore what thumb arthritis is, its symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and available treatment options. If you’re suffering from this condition, we hope we can help.


What is Thumb Arthritis? 

Thumb arthritis primarily affects the joint at the base of the thumb, making it the second most common site of arthritis in the hand. It’s typically a form of osteoarthritis (OA), which results from the gradual wear and tear on the joint. In a healthy joint, cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones. However, in people with thumb arthritis, this cartilage wears away, leading to bone-on-bone friction, inflammation, and pain.


Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis 

The most common and early symptom of thumb arthritis is pain at the base of the thumb, especially during activities that involve gripping, pinching, or applying force with the thumb. Other symptoms may include swelling, aching, discomfort, tenderness, limited range of motion, an enlarged appearance at the base of the thumb, and reduced thumb strength. These symptoms tend to worsen over time, especially without treatment.


Thumb Arthritis Causes and Risk Factors 

Thumb arthritis is primarily caused by the gradual breakdown of cartilage over time, which is often associated with aging. Injuries, such as thumb fractures and dislocations, can also lead to this condition. In rare cases, joint infections may be responsible for thumb arthritis.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing thumb arthritis, including age, gender (with females being more prone), weight, genetics, joint laxity, hormonal changes (such as menopause), previous joint injuries, and certain occupational factors.  You can read more about what causes thumb arthritis on our website’s dedicated thumb arthritis page.


Diagnosis of Thumb Arthritis 

To diagnose thumb arthritis, a healthcare provider such as top doctor Avery Arora, MD will conduct a physical examination, assess pain levels, and inquire about prior thumb injuries and the patient’s medical history. X-rays are often used to visualize joint space, cartilage loss, and the presence of bone spurs, which are indicative of arthritis.

Thumb Arthritis

Thumb Arthritis Treatment Options 

While there is no cure for arthritis, there are various treatment options available to manage thumb arthritis:

Non-surgical Treatments:
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation.
  • Counterirritants that distract from pain.
  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
  • Analgesics for pain relief.
  • Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen thumb muscles.
  • Wrist supports and braces.
  • Activity modification to reduce thumb stress.


Surgical Measures:
  •  Total joint replacement.
  •   Fusion surgery to eliminate pain by fusing the bones.
  •   Ligament reconstruction to stabilize the joint.
  •   Ligament reconstruction and tendon interposition (LRTI) to prevent bone friction.

In severe cases, surgery may be required. Recovery from surgery may take several weeks to months and may involve working with a physical therapist.


Finding Relief from the Pains of Thumb Arthritis 

Thumb arthritis is a common condition that can cause discomfort and limitations in hand function. While it cannot be cured, there are various treatments available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Early diagnosis and appropriate management are essential for individuals dealing with thumb arthritis.

If you suspect you have thumb arthritis or are experiencing thumb pain, there are many reputable hand doctor options from the Ascension or Beaumont healthcare systems or you can seek assistance from a qualified medical professional at a private practice. Arora Hand Surgery, led by Dr. Avery Arora, a specialist in upper extremity problems and a top Michigan hand doctor, has helped countless individuals alleviate their thumb arthritis symptoms. You can contact the practice, with four locations in West Bloomfield, Warren, Macomb, and Howell, at (888) 392-4263 or schedule your consultation


Thumb Arthritis Defined: What It Is and How It Can Be Treated

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Arthritis can affect nearly every joint in your body and your hands, but a very common area for arthritis is the thumb. Thumb arthritis tends to occur in your hands sooner than other forms of arthritis, but other than some minor stiffness, it may take several years before you experience any significant problems. If ignored, however, the arthritis may progress to a more serious level, perhaps even requiring surgery.

So why is a thumb so susceptible to arthritis? And is there any way to prevent it? Read on to learn more.

Arthritis Basics

Before we get into why arthritis affects thumbs more often than other parts of the hand, let’s start with the basic definition of arthritis.

In simple terms, the most common form of arthritis, called degenerative arthritis, occurs when the lubricating, cushioning cartilage at the ends of bones wears away. As a result, the bones rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain, and swelling.

The word “arthritis” is a general word used to describe joint pain or joint disease. In fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and they affect approximately 300,000 children and 50 million adults. It is more common among women, and risk factors include age, obesity, and lack of physical activity.

Why Thumb Arthritis is Common

The most common type of arthritis in the hands involves the last joint of each finger (nearest the tip), but the second most common is thumb arthritis.

It is also known as basal joint arthritis and occurs when cartilage at the base of the thumb wears away. At first, the symptoms can be so mild that you only notice the problem when you’re trying to do something like unlock a door, zip up your jacket, or snap your fingers, but the symptoms may get worse with time.

The simple reason why it is so common is because of how much we use our thumbs, as well as the fact that the thumb can move in different directions, causing more stress on the joint.  The saddle-shaped joint gives the thumb the ability to move down, up, and across the palm, as well as to pinch.

In addition to age, thumb arthritis is often brought on by injury and may be hereditary.

Thumb Arthritis Prevention, Remedies, and Treatments

You might not be able to completely prevent arthritis, but you may be able to delay it or reduce its effects. Some ways to avoid the progression of thumb arthritis, hand arthritis, or arthritis in other parts of the body include:

  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • making efforts to protect yourself from injuries when participating in sports, games, or other activities that strain your hands, such as bowling, knitting, cooking, gardening, or home and automobile repair and maintenance.
  • eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and spices that fight inflammation
  • taking precautions to avoid injuries when pulling, pushing, or lifting objects
  • using a wrist cushion and a special keyboard if you use your computer often
  • exercising your hands, just as you would other parts of your body, to keep your fingers flexible.

In more serious, acute cases, you can get temporary relief by applying ice to the area or using a heating pad. Both methods have been known to be effective, but it depends on the type of pain and swelling you’re experiencing. Ask your doctor what’s best in your case.

Other remedies may include taking medication, having a cortisone injection at the basal joint area, or having your doctor set the thumb with a splint.

If necessary, treating thumb arthritis may require surgical procedures, such as a trapeziectomy that involves removal of a bone in the wrist, an osteotomy that realigns the bones, or joint replacement with grafts from tendons.

If you are suffering from arthritis pain in your thumb or anywhere in your hands, schedule an appointment to come see us. We’ll help you identify the right treatments for you.

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Dr. Aroras office from my first call to schedule my appointment was friendly. Walking in the first day, I felt like I was in a nice atmosphere. Dr. Arora was EXCELLENT in taking great care of my hand injury. He was gentle and very understanding to the concerns I had about my hand. His expertise was admirable and I would recommend anyone with an injury to their hand to his office to be under his care. Because of him, I have healed faster than expected and will make an 100% recovery! Thank you Dr.

Jackie S.

I first thought I was going to have to have painful injections or surgery, but Dr. Arora suggested physical therapy may do the trick. I was doubtful, but I agreed to do it. Now, my pain is gone, and with the help of an ergonomic keyboard at work to keep my hands in the correct position, I am virtually pain free. The therapy strengthened my wrists and shoulders, and built more flexibility into my wrists.

Jerry T.

My experience with this doctor was positive from the outset. Dr. Arora was kind and spent a great deal of time with me. Staff was friendly. The office was nice and bright.

Ariel G.

Very friendly and helpful Great staff!!! Doctor Arora was very professional and did great work. I was very happy with everything!

L B.