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Thumb arthritis is the most common form of osteoarthritis affecting the hand. Also called basal joint arthritis, thumb arthritis occurs when the cushioning cartilage wears away from the adjoining ends of the bones that form your thumb joint. Thumb arthritis usually occurs as a result of trauma or injury to the joint. Some people also develop thumb arthritis in association with osteoarthritis in larger joints.
The first and most common symptom of thumb arthritis is pain. Pain occurs at the base of your thumb when you grip, grasp or pinch an object between your thumb and forefinger or use your thumb to apply force - such as when turning a key, pulling a zipper or opening a jar. Eventually, you may even experience pain when not using your thumb.
Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Swelling, stiffness and tenderness at the base of your thumb
- Decreased strength when pinching or grasping objects
- Decreased range of motion
- Enlarged, bony or out-of-joint appearance of the joint at the base of your thumb
When to see a doctor
If you have persistent swelling, stiffness or pain at the base of your thumb, seek medical advice. If your doctor determines that you have thumb arthritis, he or she can work with you to develop a pain management and treatment plan.
Treatment for thumb arthritis may include self-care measures, splints, medication or corticosteroid injections. If you have severe thumb arthritis, you may need surgery.
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