Arthritis is what happens when cartilage – the flexible tissue (gristle) that covers and protects the joints – wears out. Thumb carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthritis is when this happens at the base of your thumb (where your thumb and wrist meet). As the joint wears down, the ends of the bones rub together. Resulting pain, swelling, decreased strength and range of motion, can make it difficult to use your hand for simple activities, such as turning doorknobs and opening jars.
The thumb CMC joint is named for the bones that make up the base joint of the thumb – a Carpal (wrist) bone and a Metacarpal or long bone of the thumb – the most common place in the hand for arthritis. Thumb base arthritis can be mild but can worsen over time and it is always best to treat it early with some simple measures.
- Pain at the base of your thumb, when you pinch or grip small objects, pens/keys.
- Tenderness or pain when you press on or around the joint or when you use your thumb to apply force.
TREATMENTS: WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
- See your doctor if you have persistent swelling, stiffness or pain at the base of your thumb.
- Wearing a splint/brace to support your thumb and limit wrist motion will improve pain and lessen the effects of arthritis.
- Thumb splints offer different levels of support depending on the material.
- Flexible fabric splints provide compression and support for stability.
- Splints with metal strips help hold the thumb in place to allow it to rest. Choosing the right splint is key to properly manage thumb base arthritis.
- Additional relief may be obtained from cortisone injections, physical therapy and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
When these measures fail, increasing difficulty with activities of daily living or pain severe enough to wake you at night, are reasons for joint surgical repair.