One of the main thumb pain causes is arthritis. Thumb arthritis mainly affect the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint that lies at the base of the thumb where it meets the wrist. For this reason, it is often referred to as basal joint arthritis. There are various forms of arthritis and the thumb joint is mostly affected by osteoarthritis. It results from degeneration of the cartilage that covers the end of the bones at the joint and prevents them from getting rubbed against each other. As the cartilage wears out due to arthritis, the friction between the bones during thumb movements gives rise to inflammatory condition. The main aim of the thumb arthritis treatment is to relieve these painful symptoms and prevent any further damage to the joint.
You can identify that you are having thumb arthritis from its symptoms. So, let us take a quick look at some common thumb arthritis symptoms. They are as follows:
- Pain and swelling at the thumb joint.
- Stiffness at the base of the joint that limits the thumb movement.
- The thumb joint area turns red and is warm and tender to touch.
- Loss of strength in the thumb that make gripping difficult.
- A cracking or grinding sensation while moving the thumb.
- In worst cases, one may experience extreme pain while opening jars, turning door knobs or keys, etc.
Thumb arthritis is diagnosed with the help of its symptoms and laboratory tests like x-rays, MRI, etc. The x-ray and MRI report reveal the extent of damage to the thumb joint and the treatment is carried out accordingly.
The first step of basal thumb arthritis treatment is to reduce the pain. Anti-inflammatory medicines are prescribed for relieving this kind of excruciating pain and swelling. Application of heating pads and ice alternately for 15 minutes at the affected area can give a lot of relief from the pain. However, if the thumb joint pain turns severe, then these measures may not be that effective. In such cases, cortisone injections are administered directly into the base of the thumb for instant results.
The movement of arthritic thumb needs to be restricted too. Splints are highly recommended for this purpose. There are various types of specially designed splints available for thumb arthritis. You can also get custom-made splints for yourself that suits your requirement. The splint will provide adequate support to the thumb joint and position it in such a way that the thumb will get enough rest. In some cases, doctors advise the patient to wear the splint while doing activities that tend to aggravate the thumb pain. Others may have to wear them throughout the day and night.
The medicines used for thumb pain treatment will provide only a temporary relief from the problem. Moreover, you cannot take them for a long period of time as they have side effects. Therefore, as the pain in thumb subsides a bit, physical therapy can be started in order to restore the strength and flexibility of the thumb. Physical therapists suggest some stretching exercises that can ease off the pain and stiffness of the joint.
When all the aforementioned non conservative methods of treatment fail to bring about any improvement in the condition of the affected thumb, then doctors opt for surgery to repair the badly damaged joint. There are different techniques used in thumb arthritis surgery. One of them is joint fusion surgery where the two adjoining bones are fused to increase the stability of the thumb. This process is also known as arthrodesis. Then there is the joint replacement surgery or arthroplasty in which the damaged portion of the joint is removed and a graft of tendons are placed in that position. Those who get deformity at the thumb joint due to arthritis have to undergo osteotomy, by which the bones are repositioned surgically to correct the deformity.
If the treatment starts at an early stage, then it can be controlled with non surgical means only. Moreover, the chances of any further damage to the joint can be minimized. Women who are above the age of 40 years are at a greater risk of suffering from thumb arthritis. Therefore, they should not neglect any persistent pain in the thumb area and visit a doctor without any delay.