What is Thumb Arthritis?
In the hand, the thumb is the most arthritic joint. That’s where we see the most clinical manifestation. So you might have x-ray changes of arthritis somewhere else, but what really drives people in to see us is the thumb from an arthritic standpoint, because that’s so involved in the function and the use of your hand, because everything you do with your hand, you use your thumb.
Who gets thumb arthritis?
Thumb arthritis is a very common condition for people to develop as they get older, and by older, I don’t even mean old, forties, fifties.
What are the symptoms?
People start having pain with grip, pain when they’re holding a book when they’re pumping gas, any kind of power grip, they kind of feel the pain here at the base of the thumb. It’s achy, naggy, sometimes just kind of like a toothache. You want to shake it out, and it’s exacerbated with activity. The more you do, the worse it gets.
Why does this happen?
The problem is the normal smooth Teflon coating of that joint gets kind of worn down over time and we don’t have that pain-free frictionless gliding surface. So it’s kind of like tires that start to wear down. When your tire wears all the rubber off, you can’t fix that.
We do things like activity modification, braces, splints, cream steroid injections, to try to get as many miles on that set of tires or with that thumb as we can, and for most patients, that’s the rest of their life.
Does conservative treatment work?
Some patients fail, it just doesn’t work. It’s not going the right direction, they can’t do the things they want to do. Can’t pick up their grandkids, can’t play tennis, and there are surgical options not to fix, but to reconstruct that thumb joint, so you still have the normal motion without the pain, and that’s a very successful operation.
Describe the surgery.
The surgical treatment for that is to go in and take out the arthritic bone and then to essentially get an air suspension system going so the thumb is no longer impinging on itself and having that arthritic friction that’s generating the pain. That surgery has been around a long time. So it’s an oldie but a goodie and it’s durable. So if we do that surgery and you’re in your say the late fifties, that should last you for the rest of your life.