Osteoarthritis of the Thumb Joint
What is Osteoarthritis of the Thumb Joint?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a “wear-and-tear” joint disease that degrades the cartilage that forms a cushion between the bones in the joint. This means the bones grind against each other, resulting in pain and deformity. It is relatively common for OA to affect the thumb joint at the base, causing pain and reduced mobility.
The onset of OA in all joints increases with age, and is most common in women over 40 years old. It mostly only strikes younger people when an injury has made the joint vulnerable to degenerative changes.
OA has a strong genetic component. If your parents or grandparents had OA, your chances are higher of developing the disease, though the majority of people who live into their 80s or 90s have some OA symptoms.
If you experience isolated OA in the thumb joint but not elsewhere, it is most likely due to an injury or overuse. The inflamed joint swells, affecting surrounding tissue and causing discomfort. If bone spurs (bony projections) or broken off bone fragments develop or the cartilage thins to allow bone-on-bone friction, you will want treatment in our Houston offices to relieve pain and restore joint movement.
Sign & Symptoms
When OA strikes the thumb, it is usually at the base near the wrist (basal joint). Pain at the base of the thumb, near the wrist, is the most common symptom. Pinching, opening jars or writing can exacerbate the pain.
- Pain and weakness with grasping, pinching, or gripping
- An aching sensation after prolonged use
- Limited joint mobility
- A visible bump over the joint
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosis is made by a consultation that discusses medical history and includes a physical evaluation. Pressure, movement limitations, or a grinding sensation may be obvious, and X-rays may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
Early non-surgical treatment can be very helpful. Cold therapy (ice the joint several times a day), take medications (aspirin and NSAIDs to reduce inflammation), and a supportive splint (keep the joint immobile during an inflammatory episode).
If your joint is chronically inflamed with OA, however, these measures will prove inadequate over the long-term.
Fortunately, several procedures can be performed in Houston to offer long-term alleviation of symptoms: arthroscopic surgery to clean the joint and replace lost cartilage with a synthetic cushion, reconstruction of the joint using a tendon graft or synthetic material, or fusion of the bones of the joint.
The appropriate surgery depends on the degree of joint degeneration and the location of the damaged areas. Our surgeons are able to offer the minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery in a majority of thumb OA cases, but enjoy a high success rate with all three surgeries.
After surgery, your hand and wrist will be bandaged with a bulky dressing and will be supported by a splint. Physical or occupational therapy may be recommended for up to three months. Initial sessions will work on reducing pain and swelling, and will develop into strengthening and stabilizing the muscles around the wrist joint, as well as improving fine motor control and dexterity of your hand.