Arthritis is a condition that irritates and destroys a joint and, while there are several different types of arthritis, the form that most frequently affects the joint at the base of the thumb is degenerative (wear-and-tear) osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that normally exists on the ends of bones (which allows the bones to glide easily in the joint) wears away, causing friction as the bones to rub against on another which, in turn, creates damage. Arthritis that occurs at the base of the thumb is more common in women, and tends to occur after 40 years of age; prior damage to the joint may increase the likelihood of developing arthritis.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis of the Thumb?
The typical symptoms that occur with arthritis of the thumb include swelling and tenderness at the base of the thumb, as well as pain when attempting to grip or pinch (like turning a key, snapping your fingers, or opening a door). Other symptoms include aching of the joint, loss of strength, limited range of motion and, potentially, the formation of a “bump” or bony growth over the joint. Many individuals with arthritis of the thumb also exhibit symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, so your orthopaedic surgeon may check for that, too.
How is Arthritis of the Thumb Treated?
There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options for arthritis of the thumb. In the early stages, this type of arthritis tends to respond well to nonsurgical options, which would include applying ice to the joint several times a day, as well as the use of anti-inflammation medications and the wearing of a supportive splint to limit the movement of your thumb (which would allow it to rest and heal).
Due to the fact that arthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease, it’s quite likely that the condition will worsen over time. The next course of treatment would involve steroid injections directly into the joint, which typically provide relief for several months. Unfortunately, though, these shots cannot be repeated indefinitely.
Surgery is also an option, especially once nonsurgical treatments cease to be effective. There are several different methods in which the joint can be repaired surgically, such as fusion of the joint or joint reconstruction. Following surgery, you’ll probably have to wear a cast for 4-8 weeks, depending upon which procedure your orthopaedic surgeon opts for. Often times, a regimen of physical therapy is prescribed as well, to aid with regaining strength and movement of the affected hand.
If you’re struggling with pain in your thumbs – or have previously been diagnosed with arthritis at the base of your thumb – the physicians and therapists here at Prairie Orthopaedic & Plastic Surgery, PC in Lincoln, Nebraska can help! Dr. Hurlbut and Dr. Machado– along with their PA Lygia Plioplis and the on-site physical therapists – work together to ensure the best outcomes for all their patients. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment – place your hands in the best hands…our hands!
source: aaos.org; mayoclinic.org