Although small, our thumbs are mighty. The remarkable mechanics of our thumbs allow us to use our fine motor skills—including pinching, snapping and grasping. That is why a painful thumb that keeps us from being able to write or grab a handle is no laughing matter. If your thumb is stiff, swollen or painful, and your grip feels weak, your next likely step is a visit to your healthcare provider. He or she will determine if arthritis is the cause of your pain, and if so, which kind of arthritis you have. So how will your doctor know if you have thumb arthritis?
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To begin with, your doctor will take your history and ask specific questions about past injuries, how you rate your pain on a scale of one to 10, when you have the most pain and stiffness and which activities cause your pain. If necessary, your doctor may also order an x-ray to determine the extent of deterioration and whether you have bone spurs or calcium deposits. Sometimes, other studies, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), are ordered.
One of the most common causes of thumb pain is osteoarthritis (OA) of the CMC joint. Carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthritis is arthritis at the base of your thumb, where your thumb and wrist meet. As the cartilage wears down, the ends of the bones rub together causing pain and making it difficult to use your thumb. An examination of your thumb and its joints, including the joint at the base of the thumb, will follow. Your doctor is looking for swelling, joint stability, signs of deformities, deterioration, loss of movement, excessive mobility and stiffness, as well as whether your thumb joint feels warm to the touch.
CMC joint arthritis can be mild or it can progress over time. It may begin with mild symptoms, but over time the cartilage can keep 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. It is best to treat it early with some simple measures.
Fortunately, a diagnosis of arthritis doesn’t doom you to living an uncomfortable, inactive life. Prompt treatment—such as taking over-the-counter, non-steroidal inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen), wearing a splint or brace for support and rest, and modifying your activities—can slow the progression and reduce your pain and discomfort.
Arthritis can be difficult to diagnose. If your symptoms continue, you may wish to consult a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists have special training in arthritis and autoimmune diseases.Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe to the blog!
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