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Thumb Arthritis

Dilhan Abeyewardene, MD -  - Orthopaedic Hand Surgeon

Dilhan Abeyewardene, MD

Orthopaedic Hand Surgeon located in North Palm Beach, FL

Osteoarthritis can affect any of your joints and is the most common cause of thumb arthritis. If you’re finding it hard to use your thumb without wincing, Dr. Dilhan can find out what’s causing your pain and provide the right treatment. Dilhan Abeyewardene, MD, is an orthopedic hand surgeon at Orthopaedic Care Specialists in North Palm Beach who has considerable experience in treating joint problems in the hand and wrist. For prompt attention and effective therapy for thumb arthritis, call Dr. Dilhan’s office today, or book an appointment using the online tool.

Thumb Arthritis Q & A

What is thumb arthritis?

Thumb arthritis is a condition that affects the joint at the base of your thumb. There are many different forms of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the kind that most often affects the thumb.

The ends of all the bones in your joints have a protective coating of cartilage, a smooth, tough substance that allows your bones to slide against each other painlessly. Osteoarthritis develops over the years because of joint wear and tear, which erodes the cartilage.

Without their protective coating, the bones in your joints rub together and create friction, which damages the bones and causes inflammation in your joints. When this happens in the base of your thumb, it affects your ability to swivel the thumb, pinch, and grip with your hand.

Osteoarthritis is a common problem, especially when you get older. You might be more likely to develop thumb arthritis if you’ve previously injured or broken the thumb. Thumb arthritis is also more common in women than it is in men.

What are the symptoms of thumb arthritis?

The main symptom of thumb arthritis is pain in the joint, especially when you’re trying to grip, like picking up a kettle, or pinch something between your fingers, like turning a key in a lock. Snapping your fingers is likely to be difficult and very painful.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Aching after prolonged use
  • Loss of strength
  • An enlarged joint
  • Bony lump over the joint
  • Limited motion

An initial test for thumb arthritis is to hold the joint at the base of your thumb and move the thumb to see if it causes pain or a gritty feeling. You might be able to hear the grinding of bone on bone, which is called crepitus. These signs indicate you have thumb arthritis.

Dr. Dilhan also obtains  X-rays to see inside the joint and assess the extent of your thumb arthritis. X-rays also show up bone spurs or any calcium deposits that sometimes occur when you have arthritis.

Thumb arthritis has an association with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful and disabling wrist and hand condition. Dr. Dilhan might recommend you undergo tests for carpal tunnel syndrome if you have thumb arthritis.

How is thumb arthritis treated?

When it first starts causing symptoms, your thumb arthritis is likely to improve with treatments such as:

  • Regular ice packs
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Wearing a thumb splint
  • Steroid injections

Over time, the effectiveness of non-surgical treatments can start to fade, and they may eventually fail to provide relief from thumb arthritis symptoms. At this stage, Dr. Dilhan can discuss the surgical options available.

Joint fusion is one possibility, which can be useful in reducing pain but does limit the thumb’s range of movement. The other option is to take away part of the thumb joint. 

Dr. Dilhan then reconstructs the joint using a tendon graft. 

Thumbs are vital for many of the everyday activities in life, so if you have pain in your thumbs, call OCS and arrange to see Dr. Dilhan, or book an appointment online.