Understanding Thumb Arthritis
The thumb joint is one of the most common sites of arthritis in the body, affecting up to 15% of the population older than 30 years old and up to 33% in postmenopausal women. The ability to perform tasks such as writing, opening jars, playing musical instruments, turning doorknobs and handling tools would not be possible without the thumb. Arthritis occurs when the smooth cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the joint are damaged. When arthritis occurs in the thumb joint, it can cause severe pain, swelling, decreased strength, and motion. It often becomes difficult to do simple everyday tasks and the pain can become so severe that you may experience pain at night when sleeping.
- Pain with tasks that require pinching or gripping such as opening a jar, turning a key, or pinching an object
- Swelling and tenderness at or around the base of the thumb
- Loss of strength
- Bump or enlargement at the base of the thumb
- Limited motion
- Dull aching pain after use
If arthritis of the thumb is suspected, an X-ray can be taken to determine the amount of damage. From the x-ray the doctor will evaluate the joint space, alignment, and if any bone spurs (osteophytes) are present. The stage of arthritis and severity of the symptoms will determine the next step. It is usually treated with conservative care, however since arthritis is a progressive condition, it may worsen over time and surgery may be required.