Thumb Arthritis

What is Thumb Arthritis?

Thumb arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis and is the most common form of osteoarthritis that can occur in the hands.

It affects the joint that is near the fleshy part of the thumb and the wrist, called the basal joint. It is the joint that makes it possible for you to swivel and pivot your thumb  in tasks that you do every day. Over time, the cartilage of the joint breaks down and results in bone rubbing against bone.

What are the Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis?

The most common symptom of thumb arthritis is pain. You may also find that you have less strength when gripping things and have less range of motion in the thumb. You can also experience swelling in the area.

Tenderness and aching are common as you use your thumb a lot and the swelling can make it look enlarged or out-of-joint. A bump may appear over the joint as time goes on.

Thumb Arthritis Causes

Thumb arthritis is a byproduct of the aging process. Previous injuries and trauma to the area can also cause thumb arthritis.

A healthy thumb joint has cartilage that covers the ends of each of the bones. Additionally, this layer of cartilage cushions the bones so that they move smoothly against one another. When you suffer from thumb arthritis, the cartilage covering the ends of your bones degrades, making the surface rough instead of smooth. As the bones rub against one another, the resulting friction causes joint damage and pain.

Joint damage can cause new growth along the sides of your thumb. These bone spurs often produce noticeable lumps that protrude from your thumb joint.

How is Thumb Arthritis Treated?

Each person experiences thumb arthritis differently so the treatments are tailored to an individual’s symptoms.

The most common treatments include application of ice, steroid injections, exercises, and medications. These can often be enough to relieve pain and return basic functioning to the thumb.  If that is not enough surgery may be recommended to reconstruct the joint.

Thumb Arthritis Prevention

Arthritis can cause inflammation in your joints, which causes pain and discomfort. Luckily, thumb arthritis can be prevented or alleviated by performing certain exercises and utilizing natural remedies. Osteoarthritis is the most common type, and it wears down the cartilage between your joints. This makes the bones rub against each other and leads to deformity of the thumb.

Hands are particularly prone to arthritis. Your hands consist of many joints in the fingers, knuckles, thumbs, and wrists. In fact, the thumb joints are particularly large and can cause more pain. Loss of the thumb’s unique opposable motion makes some tasks very difficult.

To protect your thumbs, be aware of how you use them. If moving your thumb or hand a certain way causes your thumb to hurt, be mindful of that and avoid repeating those motions too often. Using assistance devices helps prevent further injury. Consider using a special brace designed to limit the mobility of your thumb and assist you with picking up and moving objects. Instead of using one hand for tasks, try to use two whenever possible to avoid over-extension.

The following remedies can prevent early symptoms from developing into full-blown arthritis:

  • Ice the joint for five to 15 minutes at least three times a day
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling
  • Use a splint to limit your thumb movement and allow the joint to rest
Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017