Thumb arthritis

The joints at the base of the thumb are amongst the most mobile and flexible in the body. Throughout life, they position the thumb against objects so that we can grip them, often tightly. This puts a lot of strain through the joints at the base of the thumb.

As a result, thumb arthritis is one of the commonest conditions seen by hand surgeons.

People with thumb arthritis usually complain of pain. The pain is felt as a dense ache around the palm and base of the thumb - with sudden superimposed sharp pains on movement and gripping. Some people describe pain only on particular activities, but in some cases everything that the individual does with their hands is uncomfortable or painful.

The majority of people with thumb arthritis will never require any active treatment for their condition. They will be aware of it on a daily basis, but will never need, or seek, medical attention. A small proportion of people find their pain too troublesome to carry on with. In these cases, simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, are recommended, together with advice to alter the way in which the hands are used. Should these simple measures fail to alleviate the discomfort sufficiently, the nature and description of an individual's pain will help the doctor decide on the best treatment.

Pain that only appears on certain specific, predictable activities can be managed with a brace or splint Thumb Support on Amazon. These items come in all different shapes and sizes, and can even be made to measure. They support the painful joints during load bearing and reduce pain without any fear of the complications of other, more invasive treatments. Indeed, splints can be worn as much or as little as the individual decides. It is simply a different form of pain relief.

If an individual describes constant or unpredictable pain, a splint is unlikely to be as useful because it will need to be worn 24 hours a day to provide relief. In these cases, injection of the symptomatic joint with a steroid solution (cortisone) can provide significant relief which, on occasions, will last for many months. These injections can be repeated if their effects fade, although injections repeated a number of times tend to be less effective.

If all of these measures fail to provide enough relief, surgery can be considered. This involves removal of the small arthritic bone (the trapezium) and, in some cases, an additional reconstruction of the ligament at the thumb base. This type of surgery can take a number of weeks to fully recover from, so it must only be chosen when the pain is uncontrollable by other means.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA have produced an informative online resource about thumb arthritis. Use this link to access this.