What’s New in the Treatment of Thumb Arthritis
You may not spend much time thinking about your thumbs — until they start to give you trouble. Up to 15% of people over the age of 30 in the United States suffer from thumb arthritis, and the number goes up to around 33% for postmenopausal women.
Fortunately, there are new treatments available that can reduce pain and improve mobility in the thumb joint. Understanding your treatment options can help you decide which one may be right for you.
What is Thumb Arthritis?
Basal thumb arthritis is a condition that affects the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint, the saddle-shaped joint at the base of your thumb that connects the thumb to your hand.
The CMC joint has a wide range of motion, allowing you to move your thumb in many directions. Unfortunately, the fact that your CMC joint is so mobile also means it’s more prone to deterioration; it gets a lot of use, and this usage wears down the joint.
Symptoms of thumb arthritis include:
- Pain and achiness in the thumb area
- Difficulty with pinching activities such as opening a bottle top or pulling your socks up
- General loss of grip strength
Thumb arthritis can make even the most basic of daily activities such as turning a doorknob or writing challenging and interfere with your ability to function normally.
How is Thumb Arthritis Diagnosed?
A physical examination is the first step in diagnosing thumb arthritis. During the exam, a healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and examine the joint.
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.
Treating Thumb Arthritis
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 medicines such as Aleve® may be enough to manage symptoms.
As the condition progresses (or if your symptoms are too advanced to be controlled at home), your doctor may recommend treatment options that may include:
Corticosteroid injections involve injecting a steroid solution directly into the thumb joint. These injections can provide 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.
More advanced surgical treatments may involve reconstructing the joint using grafts or fusing bones together. 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, we’ve implemented a rapid recovery protocol that allows patients to get back to their normal activities very quickly. It involves a less invasive suspension technique and a removable splint, along with self-directed therapy that can be done with just a couple of simple exercises. Our protocol provides range of motion starting at just three days after surgery.
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.