Arthritis is an extremely common disease. Although there are more than 100 varieties of the condition, it is osteoarthritis that is the most common type of arthritis in the United States.

Osteoarthritis causes painful inflammation and stiffness in the joints and can occur in various parts of the body including the knees, spine and hands. One of the most regularly affected joints in the hand is the thumb, and patients who suffer from thumb arthritis often find that their ability to use their hands is significantly compromised.

What is thumb arthritis?

The thumb is comprised of two bones with a joint in the middle. Thumb arthritis usually occurs in the basal thumb joint, which is the point where the thumb meets the wrist. However, it can also affect the joint that connects the two thumb bones together.

In osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the joint begins to thin and becomes coarse and uneven. When this cartilage breaks down, it causes the ends of each bone to rub together, causing pain and damage.

What are the symptoms of thumb arthritis?

The symptoms of arthritis in the thumb often begin slowly. In many cases, it can take years for the cartilage to break down and cause problems. However, some of the most commonly cited symptoms of thumb arthritis include:

  • Pain at the base of the thumb, which is aggravated by use of the digit.
  • Tenderness at the base of the thumb.
  • Stiffness of the digit with some limitation on how far you can bend the thumb away from the hand.
  • Difficulty with some tasks, such as opening a jar or turning a key in a lock.
  • In some cases, it may be possible to see a bump at the base of the thumb, but this is usually only apparent after other symptoms have become obvious.

Who is at risk of thumb arthritis?

Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, race, or gender. However, there are some groups of people who have an increased risk of developing thumb arthritis. This includes:

  • People over the age of 45 (although the condition is likely to have developed before this with symptoms usually showing up after around 45 years of age).
  • Those with a family history of the disease.
  • People who have suffered a previous injury to their thumb.
  • Women are up to six times more likely to develop thumb arthritis.

What treatment is available for thumb arthritis?

If you have been suffering from thumb arthritis for a while, or if you have been recently diagnosed with the condition, you may be wondering if there is any treatment that can help to alleviate your symptoms.

We might prescribe you anti-inflammatory and pain medications to reduce swelling and discomfort in your thumb. You may also be recommended to use a rubber splint to support your thumb and wrist and remove some of the pressure on the joint. In some circumstances, steroid injections may also be suggested.

If the arthritis is severe, surgical intervention may be the best course of action. There are several surgeries that can help treat thumb arthritis. These include:

  • An osteotomy, which involves cutting and realigning the metacarpal bone next to the arthritic joint.
  • Denervation, which requires cutting small branches of nerves that transmit pain from the arthritic joint.
  • Fusion of the joint so that it no longer moves.
  • Replacing the joint.
  • Removing the trapezium, which is the bone at the bottom of the thumb and one part of the arthritic joint. Ligament reconstruction may also be necessary.

Dr. Raskin will be happy to offer you a consultation to determine which course of treatment will be most effective for your thumb arthritis.


If you are suffering from any of the symptoms of arthritis of the thumb, or if you would like to know more about the condition, Dr. Raskin can help you get the treatment you need to restore your hand. Call the Raskin Center for Hand, Wrist, and Elbow surgery today at 212-889-8600.