Treatments for Thumb Arthritis

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Arthritis in the thumb is the most common form of arthritis that affects your hands. It normally occurs in the joint at the base of your thumb, where the thumb meets the trapezium bone in your wrist, known as the basal joint.

There are several types of arthritis and osteoarthritis, also known as wear and tear arthritis, that can affect your basal joint. This joint is used extensively in many tasks every day to allow you to pinch, pivot, and swivel your thumb. The pain caused by arthritis in the thumb can make simple tasks like opening a jar very difficult.

The prevalence of thumb arthritis increases with age and is greatest in postmenopausal women.


Symptoms of thumb arthritis

Common symptoms include:

-Pain and loss of strength with gripping and pinching activities.

-Swollen, stiff and tender at the base of your thumb.

-An aching discomfort after using your thumb extensively.

-Development of a bump or bony prominence over the basal joint.

-Limited movement.


What causes thumb arthritis to happen?

The cartilage that covers the ends of your first metacarpal thumb bone and trapezium bone may deteriorate due to wear and tear causing their smooth surfaces to roughen. The bones then rub against each other and result in joint damage and sometimes the growth of new bone along the sides of these bones, known as bone spurs, which can produce bumps on your thumb joint.


How is thumb arthritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually be able to make a diagnosis of thumb arthritis by examining your thumb alone.

An x-ray will most likely be requested to determine the extent of your arthritis and your doctor will use this information to recommend the best treatment option for your thumb arthritis.


Treatment options for thumb arthritis

- Non-surgical treatments:

There are a number of non-surgical treatments that may be used in combination in the early stages of thumb arthritis. These include: ice, exercises, anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to help reduce inflammation and swelling), supportive splint (to limit your thumb’s movement so that your joint can rest and heal), and steroid injections directly into your joint (to provide pain relief for several months).

- Surgical treatments:

If you have severe thumb arthritis or the non-surgical treatments are not working for you then you might require surgery.

Thumb arthritis surgery offers successful pain relief and allows your hand to fully function again.

There are a number of surgical options and your hand surgeon will discuss these in detail with you.

Surgery for arthritis in the thumb includes:

- Trapeziectomy – partial or total removal of your trapezium bone. Often an expendable tendon is rerouted near your thumb to provide a cushion and to stabilise your joint.

- Osteotomy – your thumb joint bones are moved and aligned correctly. They may also be trimmed during surgery to remove excess growth.

- Joint fusion (arthrodesis) - the affected bones in your thumb joint are permanently fused together to provide stability and reduce your pain. The fusing of your joint means it is inflexible and will restrict your ability to perform some tasks.

- Joint replacement (arthroplasty) – all or part of your thumb joint is replaced with tendon grafts or artificial implants.


Treatment of thumb arthritis at Ramsay Healthcare

With Ramsay Health Care, our hospitals regularly perform all the common types of hand, wrist and finger surgery. We offer rapid and convenient appointments so that you can see one of our highly regarded orthopaedic surgeons with a special interest in hand and wrist surgery at the earliest opportunity. They can request all the necessary diagnostic tests required so that treatment can commence quickly.

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