Dr. Tamara Clancy answers your questions about thumb arthritis, also known as arthritis base of the thumb.
What is the painful bump at the base of my thumb?
This is more than likely wear-and-tear arthritis, and the bump is one of the bones (metacarpal) that becomes prominent as the joint wears out (cartilage thins).
What is the cause?
The cause is the cartilage in the joint thinning out. Some of this is genetic (inherited). Injury and joint laxity (being “double-jointed”) may contribute to developing this as well. It is also more common in women.
Is there any way to know if my pain will get worse?
No — this is a problem that usually gets worse as we get older, but there is no way to predict how rapidly the pain will progress in a particular person.
What are the treatment options?
Anti-inflammatory medication and certain kinds of splints can help. Hand therapists can help teach how to protect that joint by changing the way you use the thumb for some activities. Limited cortisone injections may help the pain. Topical analgesics (pain relievers that go directly on the skin), heat, and paraffin wax treatment help some patients’ pain. The splints may be soft or firm depending on your thumb anatomy and comfort level.
Does surgery help this problem?
It can help the pain, but not necessarily the deformity. This is something to consider if non-surgical options are not working and you feel that your pain is severe enough to undergo the surgery, recovery period, and usually hand therapy. Options may be removal of the arthritic bone and joint reconstruction, joint fusion, or sometimes arthroscopy. Your hand surgeon can help you decide which option is the best for you.
Tamara Clancy, MD graduated from Rice University and played Division I collegiate tennis there. She graduated from the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and completed her Orthopaedic Surgery residency there as well. She completed a Hand Surgery Fellowship at the University of Florida.
She has been in a private hand surgery group practice in the Daytona Beach area for over 20 years and has served on the Public Education Committee for ASSH since 2007. She is board certified in Orthopaedic Surgery with a certificate of added qualifications in Hand Surgery and has been a member of the ASSH since 1999.