What is thumb osteoarthritis, and what are the symptoms?

Written by: Mr Adrian Simons
Edited by: Conor Lynch

In one of our latest medical articles here below, esteemed consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Adrian Simons, explains what thumb osteoarthritis is, and outlines the main symptoms and causes of the condition.

What is thumb osteoarthritis, and what are the symptoms?

The joint at the base of the thumb can get worn out with everyday activities and as one gets older. This results in pain, limited grip strength, and sometimes the thumb can even become stuck towards the inside of the hand.


What are the common causes of thumb osteoarthritis?

The common causes include a fracture, wear and tear, age, and regular use or overuse of the hand.


How is thumb osteoarthritis diagnosed and treated?

A clinical examination will often show bony swelling around the base of the thumb, which is associated with pain moving the thumb sideways and backwards. This can be confirmed with X-rays.


What are the best exercises and remedies for thumb osteoarthritis?

In terms of exercises, it’s really about keeping as much mobility in the thumb as you can. Remedies include anti-inflammatory gels that can be rubbed into the thumb. Paracetamol can also be useful and effective.


Can surgery help in treating severe thumb osteoarthritis and what are the risks?

Yes, surgery can definitely help. To begin with, I often advise patients to have steroid injections. The response to this varies from patient to patient. In some patients, the steroid wears off quite quickly, whereas for others, the injection can last up to a year.


In cases where the patient needs another injection within a month or two of the first, surgery is considered. Surgery for thumb osteoarthritis involves taking a piece of bone out from the base of the thumb, achieved via an L-shaped incision across the base of the thumb.


We then remove a piece of bone and let the space fill in with fibrous tissue to form a fibrous joint. The operation can be done as a day-case procedure. The patient needs to wear a plaster cast for around four weeks.


Inevitably, because the thumb has been still for four weeks, it will take a few weeks to get the full thumb strength and mobility back. Overall, 95 per cent of the pain will go after the surgery, and the pain will not be as severe.


To consult with Mr Adrian Simons today, just head over to his Top Doctors profile.

By Mr Adrian Simons
Orthopaedic surgery

Mr Adrian Simons is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who has been practising in Wolverhampton for more than 18 years.

Mr Simons is an expert in all aspects of shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand surgery within public care and private care. He completed his orthopaedic training in the West Midlands, followed by specialist training in the shoulder at Oswestry and hand surgery at the Hand and Plastic Surgery Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester. 

He provides the diagnosis and management for a wide range of procedures, including shoulder instability and dislocation, frozen shouldercarpal tunnel, Dupuytren's contracture and thumb and finger arthritis. He has exceptional skill in shoulder replacement, shoulder arthroscopy, keyhole surgery (minimally invasive surgery), elbow arthroscopyulnar nerve decompression and numerous other procedures.

Mr Simons also dedicates his career to the teaching of future professionals. He has been appointed as an examiner for the MRCS (Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons) exam and is the course director for the Advanced Trauma Life Support Course in Wolverhampton. 

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