Ron French, OT, CHT

Occupational Therapist

Certified Hand Therapist

DISCLAIMER: The following is for informational purposes only.  Please see a medical professional for treatment.  

Picture of thumb/hand

CMC Joint Arthritis

What is CMC Joint Arthritis?

CMC joint arthritis affects the bone at the base of the thumb. It is most common in those over 40 years and is usually the result of wear and tear, especially repetitive actions involving twisting, pinching, and grasping. Although some people do develop CMC joint arthritis after an injury to the hand.

The most common complaint is pain at the base of the thumb, usually when grasping and lifting a mug or glass, grasping and turning a doorknob, or using a key to start the car. As with other forms of arthritis the joint may swell and become stiff, and rainy or cold weather may make your symptoms worse.

What are the treatments for CMC joint arthritis?

Your doctor can diagnose CMC arthritis by examining and moving the thumb. An x-ray can help your doctor see how much damage has been done to the joint and help you and your doctor create the best treatment plan.

Conservative Care

CMC joint arthritis, like other forms of arthritis, respond well to conservative treatment when diagnosed early. Your doctor may recommend over the counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen to help combat inflammation. Fighting inflammation will help to reduce some of the pain associated with arthritis. Ask your doctor before taking NSAIDs as it may interact with medications you are already taking or conditions you may have. If your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may suggest a prescription strength anti-inflammatory medication or cortisone injections.

Your doctor may also recommend hand therapy with an occupational therapist or physical therapist. A hand therapist can fit you with a hand-based splint that supports and protects the CMC joint while leaving the other fingers and wrist fully open. Most hand therapist have an arthritis program which usually last four to eight visits depending on ones needs. Besides providing pain relieving treatments like fluidotherapy and paraffin baths, decreasing stiffness and improving strength, during these sessions your therapist will also provide tips to manage pain and edema and teach joint-protection techniques to help slow the progression of arthritis and increase activity.

Surgical Care

If the joint is severely damaged and conservative treatment has not been successful, your doctor may recommend a CMC arthroplasty or joint replacement surgery. During surgery the diseased joint is removed, and a tendon is grafted into its place. Following surgery, the joint is usually immobilized in a cast for a few weeks or more, until you are ready to begin therapy, and then the cast is replaced with a removable splint. You should have less pain, and a hand therapist will help you recover and regain function of your thumb.

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