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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of thumb arthritis

Tirohanga whānui ki te pona ngoikore kōnui

It is common for arthritis (osteoarthritis) to affect your thumbs. Depending on how bad it is, this can make it hard to do everyday tasks. For example, opening jars and doors, doing crafts and hobbies or working in the garden. It often gets worse over time.

Osteoarthritis often happens in both thumbs, but one thumb is likely to be worse than the other.

You are more at risk of arthritis of the thumb is you are over 40, have had a previous injury to the area or your job involves repetitive movement of your thumb. It is also more common in women than men.

Symptoms of thumb arthritis

Pain is the first and most common symptom of arthritis of the thumb. You can get pain at the base of your thumb when you grip, grasp or pinch an object, or when you use your thumb to apply force.

Other signs and symptoms might include:

Diagnosing thumb arthritis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your thumbs. They may suggest an X-ray to confirm that you have arthritis in your thumb, but this is not always necessary. They may be able to diagnose arthritis based on your symptoms and what they can see.

Self-care for thumb arthritis

How you manage day-to-day activities can make a big difference to the impact thumb arthritis has on your lifestyle. See Self-care for thumb arthritis for self-care measures that may be helpful.

Treating thumb arthritis

Your general practice team may prescribe medication. They may also suggest a steroid injection into your thumb joint. This can reduce pain and inflammation and make it easier to use your hand.

A hand therapist will also be able to help, especially if your thumb is not too deformed by the arthritis. They can make splints to take the pressure off your thumb when you are using your hands. These can be rigid or soft, depending on what works best for you.

Your hand therapist can also give you exercises to reduce your pain and inflammation and increase the flexibility and stability of your thumb. This will make it easier for you to use your hands.

An occupational therapist may be able to help you find different ways to do things and learn how to use any special equipment.

If these treatments do not help, your general practice team may consider referring you to see an orthopaedic surgeon. The orthopaedic surgeon may suggest an operation. In this case, your general practice team is likely to send you for an X-ray to find out how damaged your thumb joint is.

On the next page: Self-care for thumb arthritis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2024.


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