As you age, the cartilage that makes bones move together smoothly can wear away, causing the bones to rub against each other. When this occurs in the first carpometacarpal joint (the joint located where the thumb meets the wrist), it leads to pain and impairment of function. This condition is known as thumb arthritis.
More common in women, it’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of people in their 50s, 60s and 70s have thumb arthritis. Those with previous fractures or joint injuries may be more likely to develop the condition.
Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis
Signs of thumb arthritis include:
- Swelling, stiffness and tenderness at the base of the thumb.
- Difficulty gripping or pinching objects (for instance, turning a key).
- Limited motion.
- Aching after use.
As the disorder progresses, you may notice a bump at the base of the thumb from a bone spur, an enlargement in the joint caused by inflammation.
Your doctor will diagnose thumb arthritis during an examination, where you will be asked about symptoms, previous injuries, pain and activities that aggravate the condition. Your doctor may move the thumb while firmly grasping the joint to determine if there’s pain or if the bones can be heard rubbing against each other.
An X-ray may be taken to assess the extent of the joint deterioration and to look for bone spurs and calcium deposits.
The first steps taken to alleviate the symptoms are non-invasive. Treatment may include icing the area for 5 to 15 minutes a day, Tylenol® or ibuprofen to help reduce inflammation or a supportive brace to limit movement of the thumb and allow the joint to rest and heal.
If non-surgical treatment doesn’t alleviate the condition, your doctor may recommend surgery called thumb arthroplasty, an outpatient procedure performed under local or general anesthesia.
Surgery will be followed by rehabilitation to help return strength and normal function to the thumb. Most patients can resume their normal lifestyles.
If you have swelling, stiffness or pain at the base of your thumb that doesn’t go away, call our office at (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 to schedule an appointment, or take advantage of our walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover Monday–Friday, 8am–12pm and 1–3pm.