A common and very painful condition that the orthopedists in our Westchester Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine group see quite often is thumb arthritis. Sometimes even a relatively mild case can be very painful. To help people understand arthritis of the thumb so that they can seek proper treatment, Jeffrey M. Jacobson, MD, a Hand, Wrist and Peripheral Nerve Surgery specialist with Westchester Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, has recently written a blog on the subject.
Treatment options for arthritis of the thumb
Here are several effective treatment options that can help ease the pain and restore freedom of movement in the thumb joint, as recommended by Dr. Jacobson:
A splint can support your thumb joint and limit the movement of your thumb and wrist. You might need to wear a splint only at night or you may require it day and night.
Splints can help:
- Decrease pain
- Help with proper positioning of your joint while you complete tasks
- Rest your joint
Some hand therapists are highly specialized in working with patients with thumb arthritis. By teaching patients about ways they can minimize further damage to their joints as well as calm an arthritis flare up, they can be very helpful. Hand therapy is most successful when arthritis is caught early; it can help patients delay the need for further intervention. If this is part of your treatment plan, I will direct you to a Certified Hand Therapist and work closely with him or her by prescribing an appropriate protocol and helping to monitor you through your treatment.
To relieve pain, these medications are typically recommended:
- Over-the counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve)
- Prescription pain relievers, such as celecoxib (Celebrex)
If neither pain relievers nor a splint are effective, I might recommend injecting a long-acting corticosteroid into your thumb joint. Many people refer to these as cortisone shots. These injections can offer temporary pain relief and reduce inflammation. Often these can bring relief for that lasts for many months.
In some cases, surgery is necessary
If thumb arthritis does not respond to other treatments or is very advanced or painful, surgery might be necessary. Just like with other joints in the body, the thumb joint can be replaced and bring about great pain relief. Instead of using metal, this joint can be replaced with a graft from one of your own tendons.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To ease pain and improve joint mobility, Dr. Jacobson also recommends these simple, do-it-yourself treatments:
- Modify your household tools. Consider purchasing adaptive equipment — such as jar openers, key turners and large zipper pulls — designed for people with limited hand strength. Replace traditional door handles, which you must grasp with your thumb, with levers.
- Use heat. Application of heat for 5-15 minutes several times a day can help relieve pain.
Although arthritis of the thumb can afflict anyone, there are certain risk factors that put certain people at a higher risk of developing it.
- Female gender.
- Age above 40 years.
- Certain hereditary conditions, such as joint ligament laxity and malformed joints.
- Injuries to your thumb joint, such as fractures and sprains.
- Diseases that change the normal structure and function of cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Although osteoarthritis is the most common cause of thumb arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the CMC joint, usually to a lesser extent than other joints of the hand.
- Activities that put high stress on the thumb joint.
If you’re in pain and think you may have thumb arthritis
If you think you have arthritis of the thumb, please make an appointment with one of the specialists in our Westchester Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine group. They will diagnose you with thumb arthritis and determine the course of action that will give you the best possible outcome.
To read Dr. Jacobson’s blog in full, click here.