Easing the pain of thumb arthritis

Mayo Clinic: Affects 8% to 12% of the population

Published On: Aug 15 2013 10:07:32 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 16 2013 07:40:00 AM EDT

Whether it’s getting in the way of your mad skills on a video game – or it’s interfering with your job – thumb arthritis is a common complaint. In fact about one in 10 will have to see a doctor for a painfully stubborn thumb. And women are six times more likely than men to have a problem.

Gina Larson has a passion for quilting.  But she almost had to fold up shop because of severe arthritis in an achy thumb.

"Any movement in my thumb hurt.  My, my left hand was very, very weak," she said.

Larson started to measure her disability in quilter's time.

"I can usually do a binding on a quilt in an evening and it would take me two or three 'cause I'd have to stop ever half an hour and sit here or go and get ice or take a pain pill," explained Larson.

Larson turned to Mayo Clinic Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Sanj Kakar for help.

"Affects about eight to 12 percent of the population" said Kakar.

Next to carpal tunnel syndrome, Kakar says thumb arthritis is the most common reason people come to see him.

"Affects over 50 percent of women over 70 years of age.  So that's a lot of, a lot of people affected.  And up to a third of post-menopausal women are affected by Basilar Thumb Joint Arthritis, as well," said Kakar.

Kakar says the mechanics a the base of your thumb are complicated with 16 ligaments, nine muscles and numerous nerves.

To better study its complex dynamics and range of motion, Mayo Clinic is even refining a 4D CT scanner.

When that motion became so painful for Larson that pain medication, splints and Corticosteroid injections failed to help, Kakar suggested surgery.

"We'll cut down onto the bone and then remove that arthritic bone, the Trapezium," explained Kakar. "There are different suspension procedures that on can do, and one you can use tendons to try and sort of create a belt and braces method to hold up the thumb joint."

Kakar says surgery is successful for 80 to 90 percent of patients.  Larson said she feels better than new.

If the thumb joint wears out but there is no arthritis, Kakar says joint replacement surgery is often a good option. About 20 percent of patients are good candidates for that.

For more information on thumb arthritis, go to MayoClinic.org or you can call the Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville at 904-953-2272.