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I Think I Have Thumb Arthritis. What Do I Do About It?


What is Thumb Arthritis (CMC joint arthritis)?
The thumb is the most common site for arthritis in the hand. The thumb has three joints and the CMC joint is the most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis can both affect the thumb causing the cartilage that covers and protects the joints to wear out. Without the protective cartilage, the bones in the joint grind against one another wearing the joint down and causing pain and instability.

As the disease progresses, the CMC joint may slip out of place causing the thumb to collapse into the palm, forming a “Z” or zigzag deformity. This makes it difficult to open the thumb away from the palm and makes grasping and pinching progressively more difficult.

Illustration showing CMC joint arthritis

Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis:

  • Pain at the base of the thumb, down by the wrist
  • Pain when pinching or gripping, especially small objects like pens or tool handles
  • “Grabbing” or sharp pain when you engage in a certain activity or even at rest
  • The base of your thumb might “stick out” and look as though it is a little ledge or step
Treatment Options:
Generally treatment includes anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain and inflammation and a splint for support or rest. How much medication and what level of rest or support is needed depends on when the joint hurts, what makes it hurt, and how much it hurts.  

Short or hand-based splints that allow full or limited wrist motion and thumb motion can be recommended. They are generally flexible splints that support by applying compression and may also include flexible stays or thin plastic inserts for added support.

Splinting options by level of support:
For light support, the 3pp ThumSling (pictured below) supports the CMC joint and applies light compression to help reduce the slippage and grinding on the joint.

3pp ThumSling - light support for CMC joint arthritis                                     
For moderate support and rest of more involved joints, the 3pp Ultra Spica (pictured below) and ThumSaver MP are designed to protect but still allow function.

3pp ultra spica provides moderate support but still allows hand function                                           
Firm splints such as the ThumSaver CMC Long or 3pp ThumSpica Plus (pictured below) immobilize the thumb when full rest is needed. Professional fitting is recommended.

3pp ThumSpica Plus immobilizes the thumb when full rest is needed                         
It is important to look for a splint that supports the CMC joint without limiting more motion than is necessary.  If your thumb is painful only when you do certain tasks, choose a splint that supports but allows motion. If your thumb is painful even at rest, choose a splint that immobilizes the thumb. Often, because the pain from CMC joint arthritis tends to vary with activity, you may need both.
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Just today I noticed an aching pain at the base of my thumb. I'm afraid that it might be arthritis. I heard that arthritis is untreatable. It hurts when I type, hold things, open thins, and pinch with my hand. I am only 15 years old.
Posted @ Monday, November 11, 2013 7:56 PM by Brittany
thumb arthritis which is very painful also arthritis in my left hand i would like some advice on purchasing a thumb splint please
Posted @ Tuesday, March 11, 2014 10:17 AM by gina cugnoni
I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing arthritis pain in your hand and thumb. Without having specifics with regards to the exact type of pain you are feeling, here are some questions that should help you find a splint that can help ease your pain. Basically, you’re looking for a splint that will support the joints that hurt. The next step is to try to figure out which joint(s) hurt. 
Is the pain at the base of your thumb? 
If so, the splint should support the CMC joint, such as the 3pp ThumSling ( . This is a soft, lightweight splint that applies compression to relieve arthritis pain at the base or CMC joint of the thumb.  
Is the pain mostly in the middle joint of your thumb? 
If so, look for a splint that supports the MP (middle) joint as well as the CMC joint, such as the ThumSaver MP ( ) This splint realigns the middle joint and stabilizes the CMC joint while still allowing you use of your hands.  
Another option is the ThumSpica Plus. This is a soft, wrap-on splint with a moldable, plastic insert for added control to help reduce pain. Please note that this splint would have to be molded by a health care professional. ( ).  
Is the pain at an end joint of your finger? 
If so, an Oval-8 Finger Splint ( to hold the joint straight may be what you need.  
Other questions to ask:  
Does your thumb hurt when you’re active?  
A daytime splint option is the ThumSaver CMC Long. This full length splint protects your thumb but still allows for light activity. Click here for more information on this splint:  
Does it hurt at rest?  
A nighttime resting splint option is the ThumSpica Plus (referenced above). If you answered yes to both questions, you may need a daytime splint as well as a resting nighttime splint. 
We suggest you read our blog titled “I Think I Have de Quervain’s. What Should I Do About It?” ( This blog discusses both the ThumSaver CMC Long and ThumSpica Plus splints mentioned above.  
The splinting options discussed above are explained in more detail in our blog post: “Selecting Splints or Exercises for Thumb Arthritis” (  
If the links posted above are not clickable, please cut and paste them into your web browser. As always, it is best to discuss splinting options with your doctor or therapist before beginning treatment.  
We hope that this information helps you find a splint, or splints, that can ease your arthritis pain. 
Posted @ Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:07 AM by Karen Colony
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