Osteoarthritis in the thumb is extremely common. The first sign is often difficulty grasping things and a loss of dexterity. This is a problem for us humans as our dexterity is what sets us apart from other animals and losing it makes our everyday life difficult.
Our unique combination of individually movable fingers, opposable thumbs plus the ability to move the little finger and ring finger into the middle of the palm to meet the thumb gives us this dexterity. When we get osteoarthritis in the thumb this ability is severely diminished. Suddenly we can’t even button our shirts! But why is this and what can we do about it?
What is Osteoarthritis in the Thumb?
The most complex single joint in the body is the one at the base of the thumb which allows us an enormous range of motion in all directions only enjoyed by primates.
We usually get osteoarthritis in the base of the thumb where it articulates with wrist at the trapezium bone (shown in red in the picture).
One of the reasons it wears quickly is because of the amount of movement and dexterity. We often abuse our thumbs and injure them as a consequence often with repetitive movements.
This is getting more common with the age of texting so goodness knows what our children will suffer!
More often than not we do not get the correct therapy so the thumb become mechanically dysfunctional and so wears quickly leading to osteoarthritis.
The muscles of the hand and thumb fall into two categories.
1. The long muscles: these come from the elbow and forearm. This is why the elbow is often mechanically affected by hand problems but for some reason rarely treated by most Doctors or therapists.
2. The short or intrinsic muscles:these start and finish in the hand.
Both these sets of muscles are affected by osteoarthritis in the thumb but the short ones are by far the worst affected. They are the ones you really need to work on to make a difference for osteoarthritis in the thumb.
Treatment for Osteoarthritis in the Thumb
There is a lot you can do conservatively of osteoarthritis in the thumb. The most common important four as far as I am concerned are:
1. Physical therapy: both massage and exercises help osteoarthritis in the thumb. As your thumb is easy to reach it is simple to learn how to massage yourself. As with all joints an exercise programme should include stretching and strengthening exercises and a schedule that is suitable for the amount of OA you have and how your OA affects you. You can get a suitable programme of physical therapy in How to Treat Osteoarthritis in the Hand, Finger and Thumb Naturally.
2. Heat and Cold Packs: use heat when your thumb is stiff and cold when it is painful. Wrap the base of your thumb up and leave it on for a maximum of 10 minutes.
3. Braces and Splints: these are useful for osteoarthritis in the thumb but don’t overuse them as the muscles will become weak making your condition even more painful. You can find what sort I think is best here.
4. Supplements: there are many different ones that have been found to help osteoarthritis. For me Devils Claw and Krill oil seems to work the best for both my back and hands.
If this has not worked there are several surgical treatment options
1. Fusion or arthrodesis is usually used for younger patients who have heavy labouring type jobs. It does result in reduced dexterity but does stop the pain.
2. Joint Replacement. This is not really the best description as patients don’t get a replacement joint as they do with hips or knees. More commonly the trapezium is removed and a sort of bone spacer is put in. Then they use the soft tissue to sling it all together. (Click on the link if you want a more technical explanation for various types of surgical treatment for osteoarthritis in the thumb.)
I believe you should always try the conservative route before opting for surgery and to get a step by step guide on how to treat osteoarthritis in the thumb I honestly do not believe you will find a more thorough guide to doing this than How to Treat Osteoarthritis in the Hand, Fingers and Thumb.
Let’s face it for under $20 you haven’t got anything to lose except the pain!