Osteoarthritis is wear-and-tear arthritis in which the cartilage lining of the joint surfaces wears down over time, causing pain. This condition can affect any of the joints in the body, with osteoarthritis of the thumb being the most common. When it affects the thumb, osteoarthritis can impair many normal hand functions in which the thumb moves, grips or pinches against the fingers. Pain and inflammation at this joint interfere with many normal activities. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types, along with post-traumatic and rheumatoid arthritis.
The surface bone at the joint has a cartilage covering, and this surface allows the joint to move painlessly as the surfaces glide over each other. Damage to this cartilage causes friction and inflammation and slowly wears the cartilage down to the underlying bone. This process is called osteoarthritis and results in pain with movement. Injuries to the joint, infections and inflammatory immune diseases can all cause arthritis. Arthritis in the thumb is particularly common with aging.
Arthritis in the hand and wrist tends to occur at three primary locations: the base of the thumb and the joints at the end and middle of the fingers. Hand arthritis typically causes stiffness, swelling, and pain and may cause deformity of the affected joint. Patients may also develop bony nodules over the affected joint and may lose grip and pinch strength, which makes it difficult to perform simple tasks - such as opening a jar.
The primary goals in treating arthritis are to relieve pain and to maintain or restore function. In the early stages, resting the affected joint and treating surrounding inflammation can help. Splints are also used to support the joints, and various modalities of hand therapy can help to reduce symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medication and joint injections can also help to relieve pain. None of these strategies can cure the condition, however. When the disease progresses to the point of joint deformity and interferes with the patient’s ability to function, surgery can be helpful. Surgical treatment includes correcting the joint position, joint fusion, and joint replacement.
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