What Causes Thumb Arthritis?

Georgia Hand, Shoulder, and Elbow

Every single part of our hands plays a vital role in our lives, including our thumbs. If you are experiencing arthritic pain, especially at the base of the thumb, seeking medical assistance from a hand and wrist expert can be what you need to enhance your quality of life.

Our specialists at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow have many years of experience and have helped relieve mild to severe thumb arthritis pain for many. Schedule an appointment with us in Marietta or Atlanta, Georgia today to receive the relief you deserve!

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What Is Thumb Arthritis?

Thumb arthritis occurs when there is a breakdown of cartilage in your joint—your thumb (metacarpal) bone. The cartilage that serves as a protective barrier can wear down over time. The friction caused by this wear and tear can result in pain, stiffness, and swelling. Basal thumb arthritis refers to arthritis at the base of the thumb.

Types of Thumb Arthritis

While there are several different types of arthritis, there are specific types that affect your hand and thumb. Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) is the most common type of arthritis that affects your thumb (metacarpal). If you develop osteoarthritis, the cartilage inside your joints will begin to break down.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, long-term inflammatory disease that can cause inflammation and swelling of your joint.

Thumb basal joint arthritis is a type of osteoarthritis that develops at the base of the thumb. Thumb basal joint arthritis progressively gets worse over time. Basal thumb arthritis affects more women than men. Basal thumb arthritis can be disabling because it makes it difficult to carry out simple tasks such as gripping objects, opening a door, or writing.

Common Causes of Thumb Arthritis

Generally, thumb arthritis occurs with age. However, if you have had a previous thumb injury or trauma, you are at a higher risk of developing thumb arthritis. 

Loss of cartilage that a normal joint would have could cause the ends of the bones to rub against each other. This can result in the development/growth of new bone along the sides of your bone (bone spurs).

Symptoms of Basal Thumb Arthritis

Symptoms of basal thumb arthritis can include the following:

  • Basal joint/thumb pain (the most common symptom), especially with movements that require pinching or gripping
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Loss of strength
  • Development of a bony prominence (bone spur) at the base of the thumb
  • Limited motion/stiffness

How Is Thumb Arthritis Diagnosed?

To accurately diagnose thumb arthritis, your doctor will thoroughly review your medical history and ask you to specifically explain the symptoms you are experiencing and any prior hand and wrist injuries.

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, during which they will move your thumb back and forth. If this movement causes pain or produces a grinding sound, it may indicate that the cartilage has worn down and that your bones are directly rubbing against each other. If this is the case, you may have arthritis. X-rays may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Thumb Arthritis Treatment

There are both non-surgical and surgical approaches that can be used to treat arthritis. Below is a detailed explanation of what to expect with each method of treatment.

Non-Surgical Treatment for Thumb Arthritis

Non-surgical treatment for thumb arthritis can include:

  • Wearing a brace/splint to support and limit the movement of your thumb.
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications. Anti-inflammatory medication can include topical medications, over-the-counter pain relievers, etc.
  • Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and provide short-term pain relief.

If your thumb arthritis is severe and has not responded to the aforementioned conservative treatments, your doctor might recommend surgery.

Surgical Treatment for Thumb Arthritis

Surgery for thumb arthritis is performed on an outpatient basis, meaning you can return home the same day. These surgical techniques can include the following procedures:

  • Trapeziectomy: During this procedure, your trapezium, which is a bone in your thumb joint, will be removed.
  • Tendon Transfer with or without interposition: A tendon adjacent to your thumb base may be moved to stabilize the joint. It can be used as a cushion in the space created by bone removal in some cases.

Choose Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow to Help Your Thumb Arthritis

You should choose Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow for your arthritis treatment because our dedicated team has helped thousands find pain relief. Our main goal is to assist you in returning to living a life you love without being interrupted by thumb pain.

We also understand that the thought of having surgery can be unsettling for some. We strive to provide high-quality conservative treatment when possible before even considering surgery.

Arthritic thumb pain at the base of the thumb can have a major impact on your life. However, receiving proper treatment and care can also have a significant impact on your life.

Your hands will receive quality care at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow. Schedule an appointment at one of our conveniently located offices in Marietta or Atlanta, GA today!

Medically reviewed by

Randall Alexander, MD

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Plastic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon