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What Is Thumb Arthritis?

The thumb is one of the most common joints in the hand to develop arthritis—more specifically, wear-and-tear arthritis known as osteoarthritis (OA). This affects the base of the thumb—the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint—which is shaped like a saddle and allows the thumb to have a wide range of motion. Thumb arthritis often runs in the family and develops over time as we age. It can be very painful and limit your thumb’s ability to move normally, which is why severe cases of the condition may require reconstructive surgery.

Signs & Symptoms

While some people can live with thumb arthritis without any problem at all, other may find their disease flares up when making basic motions, like turning a doorknob, opening a jar, or even writing, resulting in severe pain and loss of hand function. In general, arthritis in the thumb joint typically causes the following symptoms:

Your hand surgeon can diagnose your thumb arthritis by simply discussing your symptoms and examining your hand. They may also recommend an x-ray to better understand your disease and plan for a potential surgery.

Causes

OA of the thumb joint is caused by the cartilage beginning to thin. When there isn’t enough cartilage to help the bones glide smoothly, bone spurs can form, leading to more severe symptoms. The most common factors that lead to thumb arthritis include the following:

Although anyone can develop thumb arthritis, the disease occurs more often in women than men. It also tends to develop earlier in women, usually in those over age 40.

Treatment

Your doctors can diagnose your thumb arthritis by going over your medical history, discussing your symptoms, and looking at how well your thumb functions. Since thumb arthritis gradually develops with age, many people feel okay without getting any treatment. However, if your symptoms begin to affect your daily living, our practice offers treatments ranging from non-invasive options to surgery. These can include the methods below:

Typically, all non-surgical treatments are exhausted before surgery is recommended. Treating thumb arthritis with surgery typically means removing the diseased bone and reconstructing the joint, fusing the joint, or, in some cases, a tendon can be moved to the area to help reconstruct the ligaments and support the thumb bone.

If you do undergo surgery with one of our reconstructive hand surgeons, you’ll most likely need to wear a splint or cast for several weeks possibly followed by hand therapy. More specific details about your treatment will be discussed during your consultation. We will create an individualized treatment plan that meets your needs.

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