Medically Reviewed by Christopher S. Litts, MD
Except for apes and some monkeys, our thumbs (moving in opposition to our fingers) set us apart from many of the earth’s creatures, allowing us to undertake many unique actions. Thumb arthritis limits all those activities, such as grabbing, grasping and picking up small objects. McLeod Orthopedics Hand Specialist Christopher Litts, MD, explains the actions to take – from adaptive devices to surgery – to limit the effects of this ailment:
Here is a summary of Dr. Litts comments:
Thumb arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the human hand. It’s caused when ligaments that hold your thumb to the rest of your hand wear out or are torn traumatically. As it worsens, your thumb starts to move around too much on the bone at the base.
As that motion happens, the cartilage eventually wears out and that is defined as arthritis. As the cartilage wears away, a person feels pain and discomfort, eventually causing the sufferer to modify their activity.
Treatment for thumb arthritis starts with activity modifications. There’s a cottage industry making improvements to a myriad of things. Larger grip pens are easier to hold, particularly if you have thumb arthritis or if you have any problems with your thumb. They make grips that fit over spatulas. Jar opening is also very difficult if you have thumb arthritis. They make an electric jar opener and a sundry of other devices that make life a little easier. Usually people find those without going to the doctor’s office or by the time they’ve come to my office they’ve tried several of those options and they are looking for the next step.
The next step that I pursue is thumb sleeves. They put these on to help stabilize the thumb. Then, there are arthritis creams, either prescription or nonprescription. If all that fails to offer relief, injection into the joint can also be tried
Once the person has tried these options — unsuccessfully, there are surgical alternatives. All of the surgeries are based on removing the bone at the base of the thumb. Commonly, we then take one of the tendons in your wrist, ball it up and put it into that space to stabilize the thumb. The surgery is similar to having your knee or hip joint replaced. It takes about 3 months to get better. Some therapy is needed. No matter how the doctor handles the procedure, it works reasonably well in returning the person to doing the things they like to do.