Thumb arthritis, also known as basal joint arthritis or carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthritis, is a common form of arthritis affecting the joint at the base of the thumb. This joint, responsible for the thumb’s high level of mobility and dexterity, is particularly susceptible to arthritis due to its unique anatomical structure and the stress it endures from daily activities. The degeneration of the thumb joint’s cartilage can lead to pain, swelling, and stiffness, making everyday tasks, such as gripping objects, writing, or turning doorknobs, increasingly challenging and painful.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the common causes and symptoms of thumb arthritis, the factors that may increase the risk of developing this condition, and the range of treatment options available at North Florida Hand and Wrist. By understanding the complexities of thumb arthritis, patients can make well-informed decisions about their hand and wrist health, leading to improved quality of life and long-term relief from pain and discomfort.

Causes and Risk Factors of Thumb Arthritis

Arthritis generally results from the wear and tear of joint cartilage, and thumb arthritis is no exception. The cause of the degeneration of cartilage in the thumb joint can be attributed to several factors, including the following:

  1. Age: The risk of developing thumb arthritis increases with age, as joints naturally wear down over time. The majority of cases occur in individuals over the age of 40.
  2. Gender: Thumb arthritis is more common in women than in men, particularly following menopause, which suggests a potential link between the condition and hormonal changes.
  3. Joint Injury: A history of joint injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, can increase the risk of developing thumb arthritis due to the weakening of the joint’s structures.
  4. Genetics: Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to develop arthritis, making them more susceptible to the condition.
  5. Obesity: Carrying excess body weight can increase the risk of developing arthritis in all joints, including the thumb.

Identifying Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis

The symptoms of thumb arthritis can vary in severity and may worsen over time if left untreated. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Pain: The most common symptom of thumb arthritis is pain at the base of the thumb, which may worsen during activities requiring pinching or gripping.
  2. Swelling and Inflammation: The affected thumb joint may become swollen, tender, or inflamed due to the irritation of surrounding tissues.
  3. Stiffness and Decreased Range of Motion: As thumb arthritis progresses, patients may experience stiffness, decreased mobility, and a reduced range of motion in the joint.
  4. Weakness: The strength of the thumb may be compromised due to the joint’s instability, making tasks requiring grip strength increasingly difficult.
  5. Joint Deformity: Advanced cases of thumb arthritis can lead to the development of a visible deformity, such as an enlarged or crooked joint.

Conservative Treatment Options for Thumb Arthritis

In the early stages of thumb arthritis, conservative treatment options may provide effective relief from pain and discomfort. These non-surgical approaches include:

  1. Activity Modification: Altering daily activities and avoiding repetitive thumb motions can help minimize further joint damage and reduce pain.
  2. Pain Relief and Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help reduce inflammation and provide short-term pain relief.
  3. Splinting: Wearing a thumb splint can help alleviate pain and provide stability to the affected joint by restricting movement and allowing it to rest.
  4. Physical Therapy: Therapeutic exercises and techniques designed to strengthen thumb muscles, restore range of motion, and reduce joint stress can be effective in managing symptoms and improving function.

Surgical Treatment Options for Thumb Arthritis

When conservative measures fail to adequately address thumb arthritis symptoms, surgical intervention may be recommended. At North Florida Hand and Wrist, our skilled hand and wrist surgeons offer a range of surgical procedures tailored to the patient’s individual needs and the severity of the condition.

  1. Joint Fusion (arthrodesis): This procedure involves permanently fusing the bones in the thumb joint, eliminating joint movement and providing long-term pain relief. While this option does restrict the thumb’s mobility, it can still enable patients to perform daily tasks requiring grip strength.
  2. Joint Replacement (arthroplasty): During thumb joint replacement, the damaged cartilage and bones are removed and replaced with prosthetic components, designed to mimic the natural movement of the joint while reducing pain. This option is often considered for patients with less severe thumb arthritis or those who require a higher degree of mobility.
  3. Ligament Reconstruction: This procedure involves reshaping the damaged bone in the thumb joint and utilizing a portion of the patient’s own tendon to create a new ligament. This aims to reduce pain and improve joint stability, while preserving some range of motion.


Thumb arthritis can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making it essential to address the condition effectively. By understanding its causes and symptoms, implementing conservative treatment strategies, and considering surgical options when necessary, patients can manage the pain and discomfort associated with thumb arthritis and restore function to their hand. 

At North Florida Hand and Wrist, our highly skilled team of hand and wrist surgeons, led by Dr. Richard D. Curtis and Dr. Jose Baez, is dedicated to providing patients with the best possible care for thumb arthritis. With our state-of-the-art surgical facility and a team of dedicated practitioners, our primary goal is to alleviate any hand or wrist discomfort you may experience and restore the mobility and function of your thumb. Contact us today to learn more about our services and let us help you regain the use of your thumb and improve your overall quality of life!