Arthritis of the Thumb: Symptoms & Treatment

Arthritis is a degenerative medical condition that affects and destroy a joint. There are different types of arthritis but the most common one is that affecting the basal joint and osteoarthritis. Thumb arthritis occurs when the cartilage is removed due to prolonged wear and tear from the thumb joint. It can result in severe pain in the hands, swelling and the inability to perform simple daily actions such as turning a doorknob.

Studies have also shown that thumb arthritis is more common in women than men, especially for ladies over 40 years old. In fact, women above the age of 75 are twice more prone to thumb arthritis than men of the same age.

Symptoms

The first symptom that will occur is pain. Pain will start from the base of the thumb when attempting to use it during actions such as clenching a fit. Simply put, any actions that requires the thumb to apply a force will result in pain. Very soon after, pain will be experienced even when the thumb is not in use. This would then signify an increase in the seriousness of thumb arthritis. Other symptoms may also be experienced by patients and they include:

  • Swelling and stiffness at the base of thumb
  • Loss of strength while trying to grip an object
  • Decrease in range of motion of thumb
  • Awkward finger position towards the base area

Causes

Thumb arthritis are usually the result of a direct or indirect trauma to the joint. The basal joint is designed to provide the thumb a wide range of motion, allowing us to perform a myriad of tasks. It is also with this range of motion that causes instability to it. Cartilage acts as a cushion to support the metacarpal bone and trapezium bone. Due to prolonged usage of the thumb joint, the cartilage wears off and the bones are no longer able to glide smoothly over each other. This will result in friction and the eventual damage of the finger joint.

The damaged joint will respond by growing new bones known as bone spurs. These bone spurs will cause the side of the thumb to have visible lumps. Eventually, the thumb metacarpal will start to slide out of the saddle.

Patients with less severe thumb arthritis will respond well to non-surgical treatment whereas those with severe arthritis will need surgical reconstruction to improve thumb function. An early diagnosis is critical to prevent thumb arthritis from deteriorating.