Arthritis of the Thumb Is More Common Than You Think

arthritis of the thumb

When you think about arthritis, commonly you think about your knees, hips or even your fingers. You might be surprised to learn though that arthritis of the thumb is more common than you think. As it turns out, the thumb is the most common place for arthritis to occur in the hands.

The ability to use our thumbs is due in part to a small joint at the base called the carpometacarpal or CMC joint. Unfortunately, this joint is prone to one of the most common types of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), or as it is commonly known, “wear and tear” arthritis.

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What Causes OA?

OA is caused by the degeneration of the cartilage (that stretchy durable tissue that overlays and protects the ends of your bones) in the joints. Over time, the cartilage keeps breaking down until it disappears. Once it’s gone, the ends of the bones rub together causing pain, achiness, stiffness, creakiness, and loss of movement.

Who Gets OA?

OA can affect large and small joints, especially those that are active and weight bearing, including your hands, knees, back, feet, and hips. Joint injuries from sports, work-related activities, and injuries may increase your risk of developing OA later in life.

You might also be surprised to learn that women are much more likely to have thumb arthritis than men. On average, one in four women will develop thumb arthritis while only one in 12 men will. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why women are more likely to develop OA in that joint (and in general); but, two current theories have to do with hormonal differences and joint laxity (looser ligaments). The likelihood also increases with age (usually over 40).

Symptoms

Thumb arthritis may begin with mild symptoms but it can progress over time causing significant pain and disability. Bony bumps on the joints of the fingers and thumbs are one of the earliest signs of OA. Those bumps are hard bony deformities that the body creates in an attempt to repair joint damage caused by that cartilage breakdown.

So, how do you know if you have thumb arthritis? The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain at the base of your thumb
  • Pain when you pinch or grip small objects, pens, or keys
  • Difficulty twisting a lid off a jar
  • Feeling pain and tenderness on or around that joint if you press on it
  • You may also have a bump, or nodule, over the joint.

Luckily despite its prevalence, thumb arthritis can be treated and the earlier you start treatment, the better. Anti-inflammatory medications, properly fit thumb splints and changing how you do certain activities can go a long way towards relieving your pain and lessening the chance that your arthritis will progress.

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Our blogs are educational in nature and are not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Because your condition is unique to you, it is recommended that you consult with your health care provider before attempting any medical or therapeutic treatments. We are always happy to answer questions about products mentioned in our blogs, however, we cannot provide a diagnosis or medical advice.

4 comments on “Arthritis of the Thumb Is More Common Than You Think

  1. hi, i have had troublesome thumbs since i was a teenager..10+ years, ill try my best to give more information

    the most common 2 things for me, are my thumbs always click, not a pop, a click, when i bend them after they have been straight for a few seconds, this tends to be worse in the winter months weirdly, but ive always had issues when gripping things, this can be a very short space of time, for example, painting or using a screwdriver i have to stop every few seconds as the pain is getting to much, leading to swap hands or just stop alltogether

    Ive had it in the past, i would say only 2 or 3 times my thumbs have locked up against the palm of my hand, wiith immence pain for a few seconds until it unlocks, i have no issues in my fingers, only that the hand can get a little stiff after moving objects, ie furniture.. Ive never seen a doctor about this as i never thought nothing could be done..If i was self diangosing i would says it is CMC..but not so sure, sorry for dribbling on, thanks for any help..

    1. Hi Chris,
      I am very sorry to hear that you have been experiencing pain in your thumb for such a long period of time. It sounds as though you would really benefit from a visit to your doctor. Please know that while we can provide information on certain health conditions, we are not medical professionals and therefore are not able to provide you with a diagnosis for your problem. We recommend that you consult with your healthcare professional or a specialist who can diagnosis your problem and give you recommendations for treatment. Hope you find some relief soon.

  2. I have RA in my hands and have used splints to keep my fingers straight but when the RA got to my thumbs things got difficulty and the pain was like having my thumbs slambed in the car door and not ever getting them out, that has been ongoing for about a year and now my thumbs are simply not functional but still painful and need splints, I have not found any that really work well.I have made my own and purchased others but so far not much help, it even hurts to trim my nails….any help would be appreciated…..Thanks

    1. Hi Peg,

      I am very sorry you are experiencing so much pain. It sounds as though you would really benefit from a visit to a hand therapist who can evaluate your thumbs and make recommendations based on what will work best for you.

      If a splint is recommended for you, we have a variety of thumb splints to choose from that offer different levels of support. You can find these splints on our site http://www.ohmyarthritis.com/en/functional-splints-and-supports/thumbs, or you may be able to purchase a splint at a drugstore near you.

      You may also want to review our full list of blog topics at https://www.blog.ohmyarthritis.com We have many blogs on arthritis and other conditions that affect the hands, as well as pain relieving tips and tools for daily living that may be helpful.

      We hope you find relief very soon.

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