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).
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.Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe to the blog!
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