Thumb Arthritis

Thumb osteoarthritis is very debilitating for the sufferer. It commonly limits functional performance due to pain and reduced movement. Common activities that become difficult are:

  • Pegging clothes on the line
  • Using a knife to cut hard foods
  • Doing up a bra
  • Pulling up pants
  • Undoing/doing up tight bolts


Common symptoms of base of thumb OA include:

  • Pain at the base of the thumb
    • This can radiate into the wrist and palm of the hand
    • Aggravated by pinching, grasping objects with a wide grasp, vibration, cold
  • Instability of the thumb
  • Swelling
  • Deformity at the base of the thumb
  • Stiffness and reduced movement


Hand Therapists have been treating base of thumb OA for many years. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, increase function and slow/prevent disease progression. This is achieved by:

  • Splinting to maintain correct alignment of the joint to prevent excessive or uneven force
  • Heat therapy
  • Compression to reduce swelling
  • Exercises to maintain mobility and increase strength and joint stability
  • Education regarding joint protection



  • If it hurts, don’t do it!
  • Use pain as your guide! If something hurts and you can’t stop doing it, change the way you do so that it doesn’t hurt.
  • Use bigger handles on your tools and utensils to put less pressure on the thumb joints.
  • Avoid the cold, wear gloves to keep your hands warm.

Further information:

Thumb Arthritis Blog Post