CMC joint arthritis also known as thumb arthritis is the second most common form of arthritis in the hand and is characterized by the deterioration of the joint cartilage as a result of wear and tear on the joint. Cartilage cushions the ends of the two bones that make up your thumb joint allowing you to move your thumb smoothly without pain. With the deterioration of the cartilage, you are left with bone on bone resulting in increased pain, inflammation and decrease the range of motion and function in the thumb. The type of arthritis affecting the thumb joint is osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis affects almost 27 million Americans over the age of 25 and occurs more frequently in women.
How to test for thumb arthritis.
A simple way you can test for thumb arthritis at home is to touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. When you complete this test you should see the shape of an O. If the shape looks more like a D that is an indication of thumb arthritis.
This “O” shape is indicative of no arthritis.
This “D” shape is indicative of thumb arthritis.
What can I do for thumb arthritis?
Below is a list of some conservative treatments and exercises you can complete to help alleviate pain and promote the proper position of the joint.
1. Joint protection
It is important to protect the joint from further damage and pain, which can be elicited with grasp and pinch motions of the thumb. Here are some suggestions for joint protection: use large diameter pens, use a grip to open jars, avoid pinching items between thumb and index finger (as you would turn a key), use the whole hand to carry items.
2. Stretching and massage
The web space between your thumb and index finger can become tight preventing your thumb from being optimal position. You can use your opposite hand to massage to the “meat” of your thumb or the web space between your thumb and index finger. If you are experiencing pain in both thumbs you can use a golf ball or the eraser of a pencil to help complete the message.
A comfort cool thumb brace can help rest the joint and allow the inflammation and pain to decrease. A hard custom made insert can be fabricated to put under the comfort cool thumb brace to put joint in optimal position.
It is important to exercise your thumb to get it into a better position and strengthen the muscles. Here is a progression of exercises-
First, make a “C” shape with your thumb and fingers.
Then progress to making an “O” shape by touching the tip of your thumb to your index finger.
Once you can get your fingers in the optimal position you can begin strengthening by placing a rubber band around your fingers and thumb. You will next form the “C” shape again against the resistance of the rubber band. You can make this exercise more challenging by using a thicker rubber band.
You can progress to lightly squeezing the index and thumb together while maintaining the “O” position or by using your unaffected thumb to try to pull the “O” position apart.
Light joint distraction can take pressure off of joint to relieve some pain. This is completed by using the unaffected hand to lightly pull on the thumb to take some pressure off of the joint.
If you have any questions regarding thumb arthritis or are seeking treatment, contact any of our locations for more information.
Gillis, J., Calder, K., & Williams, J. (2011). Review of thumb carpometacarpal arthritis classification, treatment and outcomes. The Canadian journal of plastic surgery = Journal canadien de chirurgie plastique, 19(4), 134-8.
My thumb been hurting badley can’t open my car door, hold a gallon of milk or tear paper ,my thumb gets so stiff I try to strech it it pops . I draw blood me pressing tubes my thumb hurt were I have use the other hand to push the tube
You should probably see a doctor if you haven’t, to rule out serious conditions that may require surgery.
You could try applying heat to your hand for 10-15 minutes, then gently stretch your thumb for a few minutes. After you’re stretched, you could do some light exercises, like picking up small objects or the exercises on this page. I would avoid lifting the gallon jug until you’re healed.
Disclaimer: I’m just a student, not a licensed professional, and I’m not affiliated with this website.
How often and for how long is it recommended to perform these exercises?
From our therapist Adrienne Loukopoulos: At the beginning, I say 2-3 times a day, and then once you feel that you get your motion and strength back, you can taper off to do doing them 3-4 times a week to maintain what you gained back.
This article was very helpful. I have osteoarthritis of CMC joint. I tried to pull my thumb, distraction as mentioned in this article and all the pin just vanished. The thumb feels much normal. I was surprised.
In order for me to resume working, I had to get rid of the blinding pain in my hands. I head down to the Able Hands Rehabilitation in Old Bridge and after a brief session with the occupational therapist, I was told I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Thank God, however, I had an amazing treatment there and got out good as new.
The pad of my thumb hurts only if I press on the pad to the point I jump out of my skin for example turning off a tap if I press on it it feels like a piece of bone protruding but I have to press deeply through the pain to feel it, it’s been this way for a few years it almost feels like I have a splinter but nothing is there
I already have my right index DIP joint fused and now my thumb is rather painful. I wouldn’t be able to do some of the exercises. Could I modify them?
Both my thumbs are painful now for about a year. The joints near the nail feels like something stabbing them. I’ll try the exercises. I’m really feeling a bit hopeless. I still do a lot of house work and crocheting with my hands .Very painful.
hello I have thumb in my left thumb what brace do you recommend
I appreciate all of this information about protection of the joint and exercises. I was just diagnosed with severe CMC arthritis and can’t get into see an occupational therapist in my insurance plan for a year. It wouldn’t be such an issue if it wasn’t my right hand, but that’s the hand that I use to the hold surgical tools when I’m at work.
I can’t but think that microscopists who use their thumbs to fine tune a microscope could develop basal joint thumb arthritis. Has anyone seen an article discussing this potential occupational hazard?
I have not seen any publications but I am a clinical pathologist (years of microscopy) and really struggle with this problem. Although I miss the scope, I’m glad that I am able to do a significant amount of work digitally these days.
Too nice and well written article, much useful and beneficial. Keep posting the valued content like this !
I play guitar and thumb pain has really limited my left hand movement. I had my thumbs x-rayed – moderate arthritis in both joints, both hands, no unexpected degeneration. I started using diclofenac topical (Voltaren) and after about a week of application, 4 x per day I was able to play again with splint (like the one showed here available at CVS). I couple treatment with the exercises shown here (thank you) and a few others I found. I have switched to Aspercream, 4 x per day (less side effects apparently) – also working nearly as well. Finally , a pure cumeric supplement has been helping all of my arthritis. However, rehab seems to be essential but it is a slow process!
Thank you for the article. Reading the comments was very helpful as well. I am 51 years old, and had a total hysterectomy last year. About 6 months later, my right thumb suddenly became very painful and the distal joint began to lock with excruciating pain. I bought a splint and wore it at night for about 8 weeks. My thumb got better , but not completely back to normal. About a month ago, My left thumb and middle finger started to do the same thing just as suddenly. I wish I knew what was going on, or if it has something to do with the sudden estrogen decrease as a result of my ovaries having been removed.
I have the same problem with both hands and plan to get steroid injections soon as I do a lot of computer work.
However for several years now I have kept the pain at bay during the day on my far worse left hand by strapping the hand with latex free kinaesiology tape. In Australia it comes in a range of colours in pharmacies and you can search online about how to apply for all sorts of purposes.