Pain at base of thumb
Damon Adamany, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with subspecialty training in hand surgery, is a staff and board member with Banner CORE Center for Orthopedics. To make an appointment with Dr. Adamany or any of the Banner CORE Center physicians, please call 1-855-409-7520.
Question: I have an aching, deep pain at the base of my thumb that seems to get worse if I’ve been gardening, opening doors or turning keys. What could be causing this and is there anything I can do besides take ibuprofen?
Answer: There are many causes of the pain you describe. The most common reason I see people with pain at the base of their thumb is arthritis, typically osteoarthritis resulting from general wear and tear. Common signs of the condition include a noticeable bump at the base of the thumb along with sensitivity and pain when there is pressure placed on that region of the hand. While the pain generally worsens over time, there are things that can be done to provide relief.
Non-operative treatment approaches for arthritis of the thumb include temporary splinting of the thumb to immobilize and prevent straining it, physical therapy, medication and cortisone injections. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and aspirin can provide some relief, but cortisone injections have proven very effective in alleviating pain. For some people, the benefits of these injections can last up to a year.
While non-surgical treatments can provide good intermediate-term pain relief, it is not likely that they will deliver a long-term solution. When these methods fail, surgery may be helpful.
The most common surgical procedure used to treat pain at the base of the thumb entails removing part or all of the bone adjacent to the thumb and filling the vacated space with soft tissue to provide a sort of bumper. The filler tissue used is most often an extra tendon taken from the patient’s wrist. The procedure generally results in lifelong pain relief.
This type of surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis using either a general or regional anesthetic. Post-surgical care requires temporary immobilization of the thumb followed by some therapy.
Interestingly, this condition is most prevalent in women over the age of 50. In fact, for unknown reasons, women are about nine times more likely than men to develop the problem.
You can learn a great deal about arthritis of the thumb, symptoms and treatment options on the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website at www.aaos.org. Banner Health’s website, www.BannerHealth.com, is another great resource for information about orthopedic conditions and treatments.