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Arthritis of the Thumb


As far as medical conditions are concerned, arthritis is one of the more common ones. It irritates or destroys a joint. There are a variety of different types of arthritis, and the one that is most commonly found in the base joint of the thumb is known as osteoarthritis.


The ends of the bones in the human body are covered by smooth cartilage. This allows the bones to slide easily in the joint. Without that cartilage, bones would constantly rub against each other, and the friction would cause damage to both the bones and the joints around them. When the cartilage starts to wear out at the base thumb joint, osteoarthritis begins.

The carpo-metacarpal is known as the CMC, which is the joint that allows pivoting, swiveling, and pinching at the base of the thumb. It’s these motions that allow you to hold onto things with your hands.

Arthritis found at the base of the thumb is more commonly seen in ladies than in men, and typically doesn’t happen until after the age of forty. Former breaks or different wounds to the joint may improve the probability of creating this condition.


  • Feeling pain when turning a key, opening a door, or performing any other activity that involves gripping or pinching
  • Tenderness and swelling at the bottom of the thumb
  • Uncomfortable aching after extended use
  • Less strength in gripping or pinching
  • Growth of a bump or bony protrusion found over the joint
  • Limited motion


Your orthopedic doctor will ask for some information about your symptoms, patterns in your pain, any former injuries, or exercises that irritate the condition. The physical examination may reveal swelling or tenderness at the base of the thumb.

One of the tests utilized amid the examination includes holding the joint with a firm grip while moving the thumb. You can tell that the bones are rubbing against each other if that action causes agony or a coarse feeling, or if a grinding sound (crepitus) is heard.

An X-ray may be used in order to show crumbling of the joint in addition to any calcium deposits or bone spurs that have been created.

Numerous patients with arthritis that is located at the base of the thumb have manifestations of carpal tunnel disorder as well, so your doctor may check for that too.


Nonsurgical Treatment 
Arthritis at the base of the thumb is treatable through nonsurgical means, as long as it is treated in its early stages.

Pain and swelling can be reduced by using the simple technique of putting ice on it for five to fifteen minutes a couple of times a day.

Another common nonsurgical treatment is medication. Simple anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or aspirin will help lower the level of inflammation and swelling, which is very effective for bringing relief, especially during the early stages of arthritis.

Limiting the motion of the effected joint can also assist in the healing process by allowing the joint to rest. A splint or a brace will protect the thumb and the wrist, and can be worn overnight or during different points during the day.

An injection of steroids is generally effective and will provide you with relief for quite a few months after the injection. Unfortunately, this technique can’t be repeated forever.


Arthritis will worsen over time because it is a degenerative and progressive disease. When it progresses to the point that nonsurgical means no longer soothe the problem, then the next recommended step is thumb arthritis surgery. These operations usually leave the patient on an outpatient basis.

The diseased portion of the joint will be removed and then reconstructed during this surgery. A tendon graft or artificial substance will be used to replace whatever was removed.


A cast will need to be work for several weeks after this surgery. There are rehabilitation programs available that include physical therapy that will help in regaining normal movements and strength in the hand as a whole. It is possible that there will be some discomfort after the thumb arthritis surgery, but that feeling will dim down with time. The recovery process takes several months, but most patients that undergo it go right back to their normal daily activities and are more than happy with the results.

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Samimi to learn more about thumb arthritis surgery and treatment options click here.

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