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
- 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.