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It’s a condition that can have you giving a thumbs-down to activities that require gripping and pinching motions. Thumb arthritis causes pain and swelling in the thumb, and makes it difficult to do simple tasks, such as swinging golf clubs, turning doorknobs and opening jars.
It’s a common injury, especially for women. The good news is there are several effective ways to alleviate the aches and pains of thumb arthritis.
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Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sanj Kakar explains what happens beneath the skin of your hand to cause thumb arthritis.
"You have the base of the thumb rubbing on a bone that we call the trapezium," says Dr. Kakar, explaining how, during that rubbing, the cartilage in the joint can wear away.
"It sits right about here," he says, pointing to the area of the thumb joint on his hand. "This is where patients will complain about pain and swelling."
Dr. Kakar says thumb arthritis is common, especially in women. He says nearly half of women over 70 years old may develop the condition, making for painful moments doing everyday chores and lifelong hobbies.
"And sometimes they’ll lose motion, as well," he adds.
"Initially, the treatment for it is a splint that goes around your thumb," says Dr. Kakar.
Topical anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are helpful for some patients. Steroid injections reduce pain, too, although the effects can wear off over time. Dr. Kakar says surgery is a final option when a patient continues to experience debilitating symptoms.
"The main surgery is taking out that bone, and, then, doing some form of suspension to prevent instability of that joint," explains Dr. Kakar. "When indicated, surgery works very well."