Thumb Arthritis

1 What is Thumb Arthritis?

Thumb arthritis is a common form of hand arthritis characterized by wear and tear of cartilage in the thumb joint or carpometacarpal joint. 

As the cushioning tissue reduces, bones grind against each other causing pain and swelling in the joint. This condition reduces the strength and range of movement of the joint, affecting the ability of the person to do some simple tasks like opening jars or door knob. 

coping with arthritis

Injury or trauma to one of the bones in the joint cause inflammation leading to arthritis. Women are more susceptible to thumb arthritis. A combination of medications, exercises, and splints help to alleviate the symptoms of thumb arthritis.

2 Symptoms

Pain in the thumb during any activity using the finger is the most common symptom of thumb arthritis. It decreases the range of motion of the joint and grip strength over a period of time. 

Sometimes swelling and pain can be seen all over the hand. People with this condition find it hard to do some simple tasks like opening a jar, or snapping the fingers. 

As the condition progresses, the swelling in the thumb increases resulting in a large, offset appearance of the finger. The joint may develop a small protuberance or bump.

3 Causes

Wear and tear of the cushioning cartilage tissue that happens with age is the most common cause of thumb arthritis. Injury or trauma to one of the bones in the joint may also result in arthritis. 

In arthritis, the cartilage tissue deteriorates making the surface of bones rough. Bones of the joint then rub against each other damaging the joint. 

New bones or bone spurs may grow from the sides of the existing bones in the joint, resulting in a bump-like appearance of the joint. 

Certain hereditary conditions like malformed joints increase the risk of developing thumb arthritis. Other risk factors are injury to thumb joint, inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and activities that put strain on the joint. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of thumb arthritis is done by performing several tests.

Signs and symptoms, like swelling or protrusions in the thumb joint, are the best indications of thumb arthritis. 

Physical examination reveals the external symptoms of the condition. Holding the joint while moving the thumb produces a grinding sound or causes pain in thumb arthritis. 

Imaging techniques are used to detect other signs like bone spurs, deterioration of cartilage, and loss of joint space.

5 Treatment

Splints and medications are the common choices for the treatment of thumb arthritis. Splint is used to restrict the movement of the thumb and wrist. 

It also provides support, reduces pain, and realign the bones, while providing rest to the weak joint. Over-the-counter pain medications are suitable to reduce pain due to the condition. 

Corticosteroid injections into the thumb joint is recommended when medications and splints do not provide ample relief for carrying out daily activities. 

Few surgical options are also available to alleviate the symptoms, if there is no relief with medications and injections.

Arthrodesis or joint fusion is a technique to fuse the two bones into a single unit, so that the joint can bear more weight. But, this procedure does not improve flexibility of the joint. In osteotomy, the bones are realigned to correct the deformity in the region. 

One of the bones in the join is removed in trapeziectomy, a procedure named after the bone which is removed from the joint. All or part of the joint can be removed and replaced with graft in arthroplasty, or joint replacement surgery. 

Physical therapy is recommended after surgery to regain the full range of motion of the joint. 

6 Prevention

Reducing strain in the joint is the best way to prevent thumb arthritis, particularly in those who use their thumb joint a lot in their occupation.

Exercises involving the thumb joint helps to improve the flexibility and strength of the joint as one gets old.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Antimonium crudum, actea spicata, magnesium phosphoricum, and stanum metallicum are indicated in homeopathy for relieving pain due to thumb arthritis. 

Fish oil, avocado, soybean, and celery seed are also used to control the symptoms of this condition.

Vitamin D and Vitamin C supplements are suggested to treat specific symptoms of this form of arthritis.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with thumb arthritis.

Modifying the tools and equipment help to make use of them better. Jar openers, door knobs, and zipper pulls are now available in user-friendly fashion, particularly for people with limited hand strength. 

Applying ice in the thumb joint for 5 minutes and repeating it several times a day helps to relieve pain and swelling in the joints.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several complications associated with thumb arthritis.

Over a period of time, thumb arthritis may make even small things difficult to do. Simple tasks like opening a jar bottle or a door knob becomes hard.

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