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My Thumb Hurts. Do I Have Thumb Arthritis?

  
  
  

Thumb Splint for Arthritis - 3pp ThumSlingIf you feel pain at the base of your thumb (down by the wrist) when you pinch or grasp something, you may have arthritis of the basal or CMC joint. This very unique joint is the most common site for arthritis in the hand. If you are a woman over the age of 40 (and willing to admit it), you stand a higher than average chance of having thumb arthritis. There are other conditions that can also cause pain around the base of the thumb so it is important to discuss the problem with your health care provider.

The good news is - there are things you can do to alleviate the pain and lessen the progression of the arthritis.

Stages of arthritis

Like any other type of arthritis, CMC joint arthritis can be mild or very severe, interfering in your ability to perform daily activities. As a therapist deciding how to treat someone, I break thumb arthritis down into three stages.

Stage 1
At the onset of CMC joint arthritis, you may feel a "grabbing" or sharp pain only when you start doing an activity. You may find the pain diminishes once the activity gets underway only to return when you stop the activity. This occasional pain is easy to ignore - but I don't advise it.

Stage 2
As the arthritis progresses, pain may be present with even light activity or at rest. You may also experience pain and tenderness when you touch the joint. At this point you may notice the base of the thumb "sticking out" and looking as though it is a little ledge or step. Now if there were any doubt you have CMC arthritis, your thumb is definitely telling you otherwise.

Stage 3
In later stages, the thumb can assume a few different "crooked" postures. When the middle knuckle of the thumb (the MCP joint at the level of the web space) is flexed or bent, and the end or IP joint is hyperextended, it is called a Boutonniere Deformity.

The opposite of this posture is a Swan Neck deformity. The MCP is hyperextended and it may be difficult to move he thumb sideways, opening the web space. With time, the skin in the web can shrink, making it impossible to open the thumb away from the palm.

In late stages, pain may actually decreases but the deformity impairs function and strength is greatly diminished.

Is there anything I can do not to end up with Stage 2 or Stage 3 arthritis?

It would be really nice to be able to say - if you take this pill, wear this splint, or do this exercise, the arthritis will not progress or it may even go way. Unfortunately for those with a family history of arthritis or those who just did not win the toss of the die for long lived, healthy bones, the disease may progress despite the best care.

What you can do however, is learn to use your hands so they take less stress, use devices that help you perform daily tasks with less stress, and wear functional splints or braces that support the joint.

Even at the very early stages of CMC arthritis, wearing a support that applies light compression and helps maintain the integrity of the joint, can really help relieve pain and allow better function.

I can't wear a hard splint and still work. Are there other options?

Yes, there are a variety of options in soft splints. There are several companies that use Neoprene (the same fabric skin divers wear) that apply compression and restrict some motion, but still allow enough motion to be able to function. Liberty and Comfort Cool splints from North Coast Medical and Freedom splints from Alimed are some brands of Neoprene splints. There are other lighter weight foam lined splints that provide cushioning, support and light compression with only slight restriction on motion. 3pp splints from 3-Point Products offer some very functional options in lightweight thumb and wrist splints.

The important thing to know is that you can do something to decrease the pain and reduce stress to try and limit future deformity and dysfunction.

Future blogs will discuss joint protection techniques and the "adaptive equipment" everyone should be using. Another blog is planned to discuss surgical options for those in stage 3 where splints only provide some relief and who need more than a splint and equipment can provide.

Author: Julie Belkin

Comments

Great summary of all the web research I did on what's going on with my thumb joint. Thank you so much. I really appreciate this. 
Posted @ Tuesday, October 19, 2010 11:37 AM by Desiree Fey
Hi,  
My comment is for the last post. The comment about arthritis being unavoidable, I believe is incorrect. From what I've read online obesity- induced arthritis can be prevented with weight watch and exercise. There are all types of preventive or pain relief exercises for arthritis,as I've seen on http://www.northwestkneeclinic.com/resources/knee-exercises/ 
Plus, wear and tear is a HUGE factor in whether or not you have arthritis. I have read so many articles about Arthritis and they always say "Wear and tear" as a cause.
Posted @ Tuesday, February 08, 2011 11:36 AM by Julie
Wear and tear may be one cause of arthritis as obestity may be another, but there are other factors with genetics being a major one. I developed arthritis in my hips and shoulders when I was 30 - 5'3" and 100 lbs. I worked as a secretary. My mother had arthritis as do both my sons - all of which developed it at an early age. I've just learned that the problem with my left thumb (I'm right handed) is CMC arthritis. Thank you for the information about the compression splints and brand names. That's what my doctor told me to do to help ease the pain. She also said that there is surgery that can be done if it begins to get too bad.
Posted @ Saturday, May 21, 2011 6:51 AM by Gayle
What type of doctor would you see about stage 2 CMC arthritus?
Posted @ Thursday, January 05, 2012 10:30 AM by Andrew
Andrew, 
 
One recommendation would be to locate a Rheumatologist (a specialist in arthritis) in your area who may be able to suggest an appropriate treatment based on your symptoms and the condition of the joint. You may try searching atwww.ra.com/find-rheumatologist.  
 
If your condition warrants it, you may want to discuss your condition and possible splinting or surgical options with a surgeon who specializes in hand conditions. On our “About Us” page you will find a link to the web site of the American Society of Surgery of the Hand. The link directs you to a page where you and locate a surgeon near you. 
 
Only a qualified physician or surgeon can make a proper diagnosis and recommend treatment.  
Posted @ Thursday, January 05, 2012 1:52 PM by Karen Colony
So tell me why i am 23 years old . I was a competitive swimmer for 15 years and played water polo for 6 years .: only 1st 4 consecuitive. I did have a job selling shoes for 3 years. Obviously that didnt help the tendonitis in my elbows.. But i think it also paved my early path to early arthritis or just really over used. I am now a waitress at our local olive garden. So now my right thumb hurts all he time. I can now pop the nuckle at the base of the thumb ( which is a brand new habbit) brings very temporary relief. Prolly not good to do. Also in the last week noticed a change in size of knuckle. Starting to stiick out a little more now. Could i tape my thumb for support? Im not sure how sanitary a brace would around food and serving the public. I can always refresh my tape from washin my hands..? Idk And ideas 
?
Posted @ Saturday, February 25, 2012 11:06 AM by Sarah
Sarah, 
 
We are unable to provide an online diagnosis for your problem. The best thing would be to consult a physician so that you can get a proper diagnosis. We have convenient links to hand therapists and hand surgeons on our website under our 'About Us' page.  
 
You can also check out the 'Conditions' page on our website for more information on conditions that our products treat. 
 
Taping may be sufficient but could be inconvenient to do on a daily basis and is unlikely to stay clean while handling food.
Posted @ Monday, February 27, 2012 2:25 PM by Karen Colony
It is quite depressing to know that thumb arthritis cannot be avoided or cured. Does this mean it cannot be stopped (in Stage 1) even by wearing a thumb brace in long term? 
 
I see this in the elderly and hope there is something I can do to help.
Posted @ Tuesday, March 20, 2012 10:29 PM by Kevin
I've been diagnosed with cmc arthritis with bone spurs by an orthopedist about 8 months ago. I had been having pain for quite a long time. I have a splint. the pain gets really bad sometimes. I can hardly pick things up, grip a pencil, cut things up. I have had a cortisone shot, it helped great for a few months. My problem is that I do pottery,crocheting and I'm not always able to do them. I don't know what to do next. I really don't want another cortisone shot but I can't function normally. any suggestions?
Posted @ Friday, April 06, 2012 2:20 AM by debby
Debby, 
 
We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing so much pain from your thumb arthritis. While we can lead you to information about intervention that might help, perhaps our best advice is to direct you to consider seeing a hand therapist who can provide you with the interventions that may help. For links to finding a hand therapist or surgeon, please visit http://www.3pointproducts.com/about-us/ and click on the appropriate links. 
 
On the 3-Point Products web site, we suggest you read the blog titled "I Think I Have Thumb Arthritis. What Do I Do About It?" http://www.3pointproducts.com/blog-health-arthritis-finger-and-toe-conditions/bid/73622/I-Think-I-Have-Thumb-Arthritis-What-Do-I-Do-About-It.  
 
Here you can read about splints that may help but choosing the most beneficial splint will be best done under the direction of your therapist or doctor.  
 
You may also need to consider reducing or stopping the activities that are causing you the most pain at least until the acute pain has subsided. A therapist will be able to help determine other ways to perform those activities or splints you can use to reduce the stress on your thumb as you do so. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine that helps to reduce the pain and will allow your thumb to “recover”.  
 
It may take some time and the right interventions to get your pain calmed down but it is important to take the right steps to try and stop or slow the effects of the arthritis. 
Posted @ Monday, April 09, 2012 11:38 AM by Karen Colony
Hey guys. Im 29 and the other day I picked something up and had a shooting pain in my left thumb. My mother sufferes from arthritis and she complains of the same pain all the time. I started to worry as I know me and mother have the same blood type and Ive read that certain foods are ok for certain blood types and some foods are bad. I thought to myself what had I eaten differently and realised I had a few cups of tea the day previous. I went onto google and found research done that showed tea produced arthritic like condition in people. I stopped drinking the tea and the pain was gone in a few days. I then went online and researched 'foods' that possibly cause arthrits. I found information regarding the nightshade family of vegetables producing arthritis in some people. My mother loves tomatoes and eats potatos reguarly. I eat potateos reguarly and have been eating the skins also as Ive heard there full of minerals. According to the information I found these two foods are members of the nightshade family and cause problems. I think also the information said something about tobacco being the culprit too (And apparantly these vegetables contain it too). I found this website that had comments left on it by some 80 odd people. Most of the people were saying they had really bad arthritic conditions and they had eliminated tomatoes, potatoes and peppers and they experienced tremendous relief. I think 'you have to be your own advocate' sings loudly.
Posted @ Sunday, May 06, 2012 7:50 PM by Matthew
I am not a PT provider. Can I order a thumb splint w/o a docs ordr? If so, how??????????????
Posted @ Wednesday, September 05, 2012 6:23 PM by Gayle
Gayle,  
 
Yes, you can order 3-Point Products thumb splints without a doctors order. Follow this link to the Where to Buy page of our website. Thank you! 
 
http://www.3pointproducts.com/where-to-buy/
Posted @ Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:44 AM by Karen Colony
THANK YOU for this ARTICLE!!! 
Wish I would have found it earlier! 
Also..Thank you Matthew! 
I am HOPing it's potato chips and how easy will THAT be for ME to figure out........ 
I don't NORmally sit around eating a pound of them a day but because the ones at Costco are SOOO good, I have literally, in JUST the last TWO days! 
(No, I'm NOT obese~I actually am 5'4" and 100 pounds....for MOW!! :) 
I actually said outloud yesterday..."I CAN'T STOP EATING THESE CHIPS!" 
THAT I can start on ASAP. 
(Well, AFter I eat the .5 pound I have left! :) 
I wring a LOT of rags out at work as I've had a residential cleaning business for 18.5 years. 
Thank GOD for the NEOPRENE that I didn't even realize they made until I read this. 
(Actually didn't know ANYthing about braces, the pain OR the fat knuckle until I read this.) 
AND....I text a LOT, specifically SWYPING, which I will be cutting out of my life. 
Now if I can JUST get my phone to recognize my VOICE. 
That or CALL people the old fashioned way. 
RIGHT!! ;) 
 
I just MAY have found this helpful article in the nick of time. 
I've had PAIN there since I turned FIFTY of COURSE but I JUST noticed the lower BUMP about 4 weeks ago. 
(IRONIcally, I will be 52 this MARCH.) 
I searched EVERY where for answers on Google because when I got the PAIN, it was excrutiating for the first 6 months. 
(Not as BAD right now.) 
Had I read this article or something SIMilar, I would have checked my knuckles 2 years ago as you need to look at it (mine, from a different angle.) 
Posted @ Friday, February 22, 2013 3:31 AM by Gaye
PS~I'm SURE, using a computer mouse for almost 10 hours yesterday, PROBably didn't HELP! 
(Guess I have NO choice but to learn to use my laptop mouse which I guess is pretty sad I haven't done so already as it's THREE YEARS OLD! haha! But you know these OLD DOGS and having to LEARN SOME thing NEW. haha!!) 
Had I read/done and WORN....3 years ago, I KNOW I wouldn't have woken up at THREE AM!!! 
THANKS AGAIN!!
Posted @ Friday, February 22, 2013 3:39 AM by Gaye
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