Treatment Options For Arthritis Of The Thumb

You might not think much about your thumbs, but if one of them is bothering you, you'll rapidly find that it's difficult to do many tasks that you do every day. For example, activities like turning a doorknob, opening a jar, and even tying your shoes can become excruciating. Arthritis of the thumb is a common cause of this type of pain, and it tends to affect women over the age of 40. It's also more common if you've had an injury to your thumb in the past. The good news is that there are several treatments that you can try that can ease the pain and get you back on track when it comes to handling your everyday tasks.

Rest and Ice

If you have an arthritis flare, sometimes simple measures that you can do at home will help. First, you'll need to rest the joint. This can be difficult because you use the thumb for so many tasks on a daily basis, but if you notice that something is uncomfortable, stop doing it. Next, try icing the joint. You can use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a cloth for up to 15 minutes at a time. Don't place ice directly on your thumb and don't leave it on for more than 15 minutes; too much icing can lead to tissue damage.


Splinting your thumb will help you remember not to use it. Usually this is done with a wrist brace that also keeps the thumb joint still. Some people need to wear the brace constantly during a flare, while others do well just wearing it at night. Talk to your orthopedic surgeon and experiment to see what works best for you.


By exercising your hand and thumb, you can strengthen the muscles around your thumb joint, which can lead to better motility of the joint and less pain. Your physical therapist or orthopedic doctor can show you some exercises to do. Consult with a doctor or physical therapist before beginning a hand-exercise routine, because depending on exactly where your arthritis is, you could exacerbate the problem if you overwork the joint.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

If home remedies such as icing and splinting don't work enough to keep you pain-free, you might need anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the inflammation and relieve your pain. Your doctor might recommend ibuprofen or naproxen; conversely, he or she might prescribe you a stronger anti-inflammatory medicine. It's important to take them as directed and to watch for signs of serious side effects, such as stomach pain and tarry, black stools. If anti-inflammatory medications are not safe for you to take, then your doctor might be able to prescribe another type of painkiller.

Orthopedic Surgery

As time progresses, you might need to have surgery to remove the arthritis and relieve your pain. There are a few different options. One procedure involves fusing the bones together to eliminate the painful movement. As you can imagine, however, this limits mobility and won't necessarily make your daily living tasks any easier (though they will be less painful). Another is to replace the joint to restore motility and reduce or eliminate your pain.

After surgery, you will be given a regimen of exercises to do, as well as a splint and possibly pain medications. It's important to follow your doctor's instructions to promote full healing and as great a range of motion as possible.

If you are suffering from thumb arthritis, see your primary care physician. He or she can evaluate the problem and rule out additional issues. From there, you'll probably be referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who can go over your options with you. For more information, visit websites like