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Arthritis is a condition that irritates or slowly destroys a joint. While there are several types of arthritis, the one that most often causes pain at the base of the thumb is osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative or “wear-and-tear” form of thumb arthritis (unlike rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by a patient’s own immune system reacting against the joint tissues)..
Women are affected by thumb base arthritis much more often than men, and the condition occurs more frequently in patients with a family history of osteoarthritis or those who use their fingers and thumbs extensively in their work or hobbies. The dominant hand is more likely to develop thumb base arthritis, although most patients have it on both sides. It usually starts sometime after 40 years of age and becomes progressively worse over time.
The joint at the base of the thumb, near the wrist and at the fleshy part of the thumb, enables the thumb to swivel, pivot, and pinch so that you can grip things in your hand. Smooth cartilage covers the ends of the bones and enables the bones to glide in the joint. Without that cartilage, bones rub against each other, causing friction and damage to the joint.
While we cannot cure arthritis, we can treat it and make life more livable. Many cases can be treated without surgery. Those patients with constant pain that is not relieved by non-surgical methods can have surgery for the condition.
The symptoms of thumb base arthritis include:
- Pain with activities that involve gripping or pinching, such as turning a key, opening a door, or snapping your fingers
- Swelling/tenderness at the base of the thumb
- An aching discomfort after prolonged use
- Loss of strength in gripping or pinching
- An enlarged or deformed “out-of-joint” appearance
- Development of a bony bump over the joint
- Limited motion