Category : Thumb Arthritis

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Advice from a Certified Hand Therapist: Surgery for Thumb Arthritis Pain

Thumb arthritis pain can be debilitating, making everyday self-care tasks intolerable. There is a surgical option when other treatments, such as injections and therapy, fail to adequately reduce pain. A carpometacarpal arthroplasty or CMC arthroplasty is a joint replacement procedure for the base of your thumb. It eliminates the grinding and pain felt from the rubbing of bone on bone after the protective cartilage has worn away, usually caused by arthritis.

Below are some commonly asked questions regarding this procedure:

Will I be in a cast?

Yes. You will likely be in a cast for 2-4 weeks. You will also use either a removable orthosis a hand therapist will custom make for you or an off-the-shelf thumb and wrist splint for a month after the cast has been removed. This will help maintain the optimum position of your thumb as you are healing and protect your new thumb joint.

What happens after my thumb has been immobilized?

Any time a joint has been immobilized, it takes time to regain your flexibility. For this surgery, the wrist and thumb are usually quite stiff. Your doctor will likely recommend you see a hand therapist to assist you with regaining the range of motion and strength safely.

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Ask a Therapist: Thumb Arthritis

Certified Hand Therapist Michelle McMurray, MOT, OTR/L, CHT discusses thumb arthritis, also known as basal joint arthritis.


Basal joint arthritis, or thumb arthritis, is the most common site of arthritis in the hand.  This may also be referred to as the CMC (carpometacarpal) joint.  Pain typically occurs at the base of the thumb where the hand meets the wrist.  People typically report pain and weakness with grasping or pinching activities. Most people do not realize how important this particular joint is to the function of the hand until it hurts.  The amount of force transmitted through the CMC joint holding a 1-pound object at the tip is amplified to over 13 pounds at the CMC joint.  Basic activities of daily living can require between 6 and 8 pounds of pinch at the tip of the thumb, which would be amplified more than 10 times that at the base of the thumb!  Over time, this can cause break-down of the joint with loss of cartilage (the smooth part of the joint) and inflammation.  This is sometimes a painful process.

When this occurs in the body, what options do we have to feel better?  Most people do not choose surgery as their first option, and it is often not recommended as the first option.  Initial options may include injections, splinting, medications and/or rest.  Additionally, there are modifications that can be made to our daily activities which may also help to decrease the pain.

Here are a few examples of some easy and inexpensive ways to protect your hands to decrease the stress and inflammation at your thumb:

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How to Treat Thumb Arthritis

Closeup on young housewife opening jar of pickled cucumbers

Thumb arthritis can cause you to feel pain and weakness when you try to pinch things (with your thumb and index finger) and also when you try to grasp objects. It can be painful opening jars, turning doorknobs or keys, and sometimes writing. This condition is genetic. Just like gray hair, it comes on with age; however, women tend to have thumb arthritis more often than men. With some families, it can show up at a younger age.

Like other types of arthritis, this condition is due to the thinning of cartilage, which covers our joints. Without this cartilage, the joints cannot allow the bones to move as smoothly as they normally would, which causes pain.

Because thumb arthritis is typically part of the aging process, treatment can sometimes be unnecessary. To ease the pain, the follow treatments are sometimes used:

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Ask a Doctor: Thumb Arthritis

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Dr. Tamara Clancy answers your questions about thumb arthritis, also known as arthritis base of the thumb.

What is the painful bump at the base of my thumb?

This is more than likely wear-and-tear arthritis, and the bump is one of the bones (metacarpal) that becomes prominent as the joint wears out (cartilage thins).

What is the cause?

The cause is the cartilage in the joint thinning out.  Some of this is genetic (inherited).  Injury and joint laxity (being “double-jointed”) may contribute to developing this as well.  It is also more common in women.

Is there any way to know if my pain will get worse?

No — this is a problem that usually gets worse as we get older, but there is no way to predict how rapidly the pain will progress in a particular person.

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Thumb Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment and Recovery

 

Thumb arthritis, sometimes known as “basal joint arthritis” or “arthritis base of the thumb,” is a condition that is genetic and tends to come with age. Patients with thumb arthritis find it difficult to perform daily tasks such as opening a jar or turning a doorknob. The pain and swelling is found at the base of the thumb.

Watch this two-minute video to see how a quick surgery can relieve thumb arthritis symptoms if splints and injections do not work for you.

Learn more about Thumb Arthritis and watch more short videos at www.HandCare.org.

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Random Fact: Arthritis

Doctor's hand holding a wrinkled elderly hand

Arthritis impacts 53 million adults and 300,000 children. Learn about the different types that may affect your hands, including  osteoarthritis, arthritis base of the thumb, MP joint arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

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