Why does my thumb hurt?

If you have had an injury to the thumb such as a fracture or sprain this will naturally lead to pain and limited function for a while, but what if that’s not the case, or the pain doesn’t go away?  This could be the start of arthritis.

How would I know I had arthritis?

Whilst most people would think of the hip or knee when it comes to arthritis, osteoarthritis of the thumb is quite common and affects around 10% of adults and as many as a third of women over 55. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, weakness, and swelling of the base of the thumb, making even simple tasks such as opening a jar or turning a key difficult. An x-ray may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the treatment options?

Most people require only reassurance as to what the problem is.  Modifying activities or taking simple pain killers usually helps, as can splinting and conservative treatment such as physiotherapy and hand therapy.  If these aren’t successful, an injection would be the next option and surgery a final resort.  Traditional surgical options have been joint excision without replacement (a trapeziectomy) or fusion of the joint (arthrodesis), and whilst both operations are excellent at relieving pain, the downsides can be loss of range of motion or strength.

Are there other options?

You probably know at least one person who has had a hip or knee replacement. Similar technology, on a much smaller scale, is available for thumb and finger joint arthritis, and these have the advantage of preserving motion and strength. During a joint replacement procedure, the pieces of damaged joint are replaced with an implant matched closely to your own thumb joint. The surgery itself requires only a small scar and is done as a day case procedure.

How soon after surgery will I be able to use my my new joint?

You will be encouraged to begin moving your joint and rebuilding strength the day after surgery, with a lightweight splint to help protect your replacement. Return to more demanding activities, including sports, takes 2-3 months.