Arthritis of the thumb can result from an injury or normal wear and tear of the joint. For most women, thumb arthritis is not from a prior injury. While men suffer from the condition with fewer incidences than women, male patients will frequently have a history of a prior injury.
The anatomy of the thumb basal joint depends upon two bones—the trapezium and the thumb metacarpal—along with several ligaments to maintain stability. These bones and ligaments are placed under tremendous stress on a daily basis. For example, if we pinch the equivalent of 10 pounds at the fingertip, the basal joint is placed under 120 pounds of pressure. When grasping, the basal joint may experience over 100 times the force. This repetitive force causes the ligaments to become thin, which leads to abnormal wear and, eventually, arthritis.
Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. When found early, this disease typically responds to splinting and simple injections. As more conservative treatments become less effective and symptoms become unbearable, surgery becomes the best option for pain relief without limiting function.
Diagnosing this condition is generally pain-free. A simple evaluation and review of radiographs with an orthopedic surgeon usually is all that is necessary. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor and patient can work together to decide the most effective treatment regimen that meets the patient’s needs and goals.