Thumb Arthritis

Thumb arthritis may also be referred to as “thumb basal joint arthritis.” It affects the joint at the base of the thumb. Thumb arthritis commonly occurs through wear and tear with age, which is a type of osteoarthritis.

It is a condition where the cartilage of the basal joint wears down, and the bone rubs against bone causing inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause thumb arthritis, but this is rare.

If you are experiencing pain in your thumb, schedule an appointment with JIS Orthopedics today. We have offices conveniently located in New Albany and St. Clairsville, OH. Our hand and wrist specialists look forward to helping you get your thumb back to normal.

What Are the Causes of Thumb Arthritis?

The most common cause of thumb arthritis is aging. If you had a previous injury or trauma to the thumb joint, then you may also develop thumb arthritis later in life.

A normal thumb joint will have cartilage covering the two ends of the bone. This allows the bones to glide over each other without any friction.

However, with arthritis, the cartilage wears down, allowing the bones to rub against each other. This can cause pain and inflammation. Over time, bone spurs can develop, creating noticeable lumps on your thumb.

What Are the Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis?

The most common and obvious symptom of thumb arthritis is pain at the base of your thumb. You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Inflammation or swelling at the base of your thumb
  • Pain with pinching activities such as tearing envelopes or opening bottles
  • Reduced range of motion in your thumb joint
  • Your grip strength may weaken
  • Bony growth at your thumb joint
Dr. Julka checking a patient for thumb arthritis.

The Risk Factors of Thumb Arthritis

There are several factors that can increase your risk of thumb arthritis. The risk factors for thumb arthritis include the following:

  • You are over 40 years old.
  • You have inherited conditions, such as joint ligament laxity and malformed joints.
  • You have fractured or sprained your thumb joint.
  • Diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Although osteoarthritis is the most common cause of thumb arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the CMC joint, usually to a lesser extent than other joints of the hand.
  • Your jobs or other activities put high stress on your thumb joint.
  • You are female

Diagnosis of Thumb Arthritis

A physical examination is the first step in diagnosing thumb arthritis. During the exam, a healthcare provider will examine the joint and ask about your symptoms.

They may also perform a test where they firmly hold the joint and move the thumb, checking for pain or grinding that may indicate joint damage.

An X-ray can help diagnose thumb arthritis as well. X-rays reveal bone spurs, worn cartilage, and a loss of joint space, all indicators of arthritis.

How is Thumb Arthritis Treated?

Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will suggest different treatments depending on circumstances, such as the severity of your condition. In the early stages of thumb arthritis, icing the joint, wearing a splint, or using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as Aleve®, may be enough to relieve pain.

Your doctor may recommend other treatment options if your condition progresses (or if your symptoms are too advanced to be controlled at home).

Some of these treatments may include the following:

  • Corticosteroid injections involve injecting a steroid solution directly into the thumb joint. These injections relieve swelling and offer temporary pain relief that lasts for months but can’t be used indefinitely.
  • Thumb arthroscopy is a relatively new treatment offered by a select few providers. It is minimally invasive and involves far less recovery time than other thumb surgeries.

Severe thumb arthritis may require more advanced surgical treatments. We perform a less invasive version of a traditional CMC arthroplasty procedure. This allows for earlier motion and stabilization of the thumb with one incision versus 2-3 with the traditional LRTI method. The following surgical treatments may be suggested:

  • CMC arthroplasty with suture suspension/tight rope suspension
  • CMC Joint fusion (Recommended for patients under 40)

Your surgeon will help you understand which type of surgery is best for your unique circumstances.

Recovering After Thumb Surgery

The steps to recovery after thumb surgery will vary depending on what type of treatment you’ve received.

At JIS Orthopedics, we’ve implemented a rapid recovery protocol that allows patients to return to their normal activities quickly. It involves a less invasive suspension technique, a removable splint, and self-directed physical therapy that can be done with just a couple of simple exercises. Our protocol helps you with your range of motion, starting just three days after surgery.

Get Relief Today!

If you are experiencing pain in your thumb, contact us today to schedule an appointment with JIS Orthopedics. We have offices conveniently located in New Albany and St. Clairsville, OH. Our hand specialists have the skill required to give you the relief you’re looking for.


Medically reviewed by AJ Julka, MD

Finding Relief

Your thumb performs too many important jobs for you to ignore any problems with the joint. If you think you may be experiencing thumb arthritis, reach out to an expert who can give you a diagnosis and help you find relief.

If you have thumb pain, we can help you at JIS Orthopedics. Schedule an appointment to get a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.


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