I Think I Have Thumb Arthritis. What Do I Do About It?
If you think you have arthritis at the base or CMC joint of your thumb (see image), we recommend reading the blog titled My thumb hurts - What’s wrong? first. The section on CMC arthritis may help to confirm your suspicion or direct you to consider if you might have another condition. It is important that you have an understanding of what may be wrong before considering what to do about it.
There are several problems that can cause thumb pain. Each condition is different and needs to be properly diagnosed before it can be treated. Diagnosis is best done by your physician or a therapist who specializes in treating hand conditions. The information in this blog is meant to be discussed with your doctor or therapist so they can guide you in choosing the most appropriate and safe treatment.
CMC (basal) joint arthritis: 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.
Splinting is recommended for rest and support during activity. Forearm based splints that cross the wrist and immobilize the thumb, commonly known as long Thumb Spica splints, are recommended when full rest is needed to reduce severe pain.
Short or hand based splints that allow full or limited wrist motion and thumb motion are generally flexible splints that support by applying compression. They may also include flexible stays or thin plastic inserts for added support.
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 arthritis tends to vary with activity, you may need both.
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