How Will Your Healthcare Professional Know If You Have Thumb Arthritis?

arthritis of the thumb

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 you have thumb pain, your thumb is stiff or  swollen, and your grip feels weak, your next likely step is diagnosing your thumb pain with a visit to your doctor’s office.  He or she will determine if arthritis is the cause of your thumb pain, and if so, which kind of arthritis you have.

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Diagnosing Thumb Pain

To begin with, your health care professional 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 Thumb 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.

Treatment of Thumb Arthritis

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.

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CMCcareThumb Brace
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Fix Comfort Thumb Brace

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.

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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.

2 comments on “How Will Your Healthcare Professional Know If You Have Thumb Arthritis?

  1. I have been diagnosed with thumb arthritis in my left hand and that limits my ability to play guitar. Is there some brace that might help with making chords with my left hand?
    I am attempting to relearn my left hand technique by making my thumb immobile but instinctively I bend my thumb around the guitar neck which is painful and further aggravates the problem. Over the counter braces tend not to help very much.

    1. Hi Harvel, I am sorry to hear your thumb arthritis is limiting your guitar playing. The CMCcare Thumb Brace and the Fix Comfort Thumb Brace can help reduce your arthritis pain so you can comfortable work and play. Both thumb braces have a slim open palm design to leave your fingers and thumb fee to move for comfort and function. You can find all of our thumb braces on I hope you find relief soon.

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