Turning doorknobs and opening jars are painfully challenging for people with arthritis in their thumb. Arthritis is a condition that wears down and destroys a joint in the body. Degenerative wear-and-tear arthritis known as osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis that most commonly affects the thumb. Thumb arthritis breaks down the cushioning cartilage of the thumb’s basal or carpometacarpal (CMC) joint, and this condition occurs most often in women over age 60.
Symptoms of arthritic thumb include the following:
- Severe pain
- Swelling and tenderness
- Decreased strength
- Limited range of motion
- A bony prominence or bump over the joint
Thumb arthritis occurs most often in post-menopausal women, and some doctors suspect a decrease in female hormones is a source of the problem.
What factors increase the risk for thumb arthritis?
- Being female
- Age above 40
- Repetitive motion activities and jobs that increase pressure to the thumb joint
- Injuries such as sprains and fractures
- Diseases that affect cartilage structure including rheumatoid arthritis
- Hereditary conditions including joint ligament laxity
Most often, arthritic thumbs are a result of repeated gripping or forceful pinching of the hand. Years of typing also may contribute to thumb joint breakdown, or as in cases with today’s youth, straining of thumb ligaments from texting and using cellphones.
Treatment for arthritic thumb includes medication, corticosteroid injections and a special thumb splint. Chronic, severe cases may require surgery. Orthopedic doctors warn that if you have frequent joint pain and continue to ignore the problem, eventually the joint will become arthritic. Since thumb arthritis progresses in stages, the best way to prevent long-term problems is to seek medical intervention in your 40s and 50s.
What symptoms of thumb arthritis do you see in yourself or with older loved ones?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.