Annual Bone & Joint Section
Here’s what you should know about this common degenerative hand disease.
By Lucy Morris
What Is Carpometacarpal Arthritis?
A degenerative condition of the hand, carpometacarpal arthritis is also known as thumb arthritis. It affects the joint at the base of your thumb, known as the carpometacarpal joint. This form of arthritis results from wear and tear in the joint, which leads to cartilage loss and bone-on-bone friction.
To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may take X-rays in addition to performing a physical exam. Grinding sounds, a gritty feeling, or evidence of bone spurs, worn-down cartilage, and/or loss of space in the joint can all indicate carpometacarpal arthritis.
Thumb arthritis can result in pain, swelling, and stiffness at the base of the thumb. It can also affect range of motion and hand strength. Simple tasks, like turning a doorknob or opening a jar, may become difficult. You may even notice the joint looks enlarged or bony.
Who’s at Risk?
Women are more likely to get thumb arthritis than men, and it’s also more common in the aging population since it’s caused by wear and tear of the joint. Obesity can put pressure on the joint as well, as can certain hereditary issues. Injuries and diseases that affect cartilage structure and function can also put you at risk, along with activities that stress the thumb joint.
Treating Carpometacarpal Arthritis
Depending on the severity of your arthritis, a doctor may recommend a few different treatment options.
The first method to relieve pain and stiffness is medication. These may be topical medications like capsaicin, which are applied to the skin over the joint; over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve, among others; or prescription pain relievers.
A splint may also be recommended. Splints help support your carpometacarpal joint and limit thumb and wrist movement. These may be recommended for day and night wear, or for night wear only.
Corticosteroid injections are another relief method if less invasive options haven’t worked. These help reduce inflammation and pain.
Lastly, if you’ve exhausted all other methods or if you are barely able to move your thumb, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, followed by physical therapy to regain strength and movement. HS