What are the causes of arthritic thumb?

Causes of arthritic thumb are difficult to identify because they are often numerous. Find out what are these causes in order to relieve your pain.
Causes of arthritic thumb

Arthritic thumb is a condition that mainly affects women. Indeed, 90% of arthritic thumb cases are post-menopausal women over 50 years of age. Consequently, we can wonder about the reasons for the development of this condition. Does this mechanical dysfunction results from hormonal causes? Finding the exact causes of arthritic thumb and preventing them is not as simple as we might think.


What are the causes of arthritic thumb?

Causes of arthritic thumb are still poorly known and difficult to recognise. Many factors can play a part in the development of this condition:

• Age, which causes cartilage wear and weakness;
• Potential inflammatory lesions that damage the cartilage (rheumatoid arthritis (1), chondrocalcinosis(2));
• Traumatic lesions such as fractures, sprains or repeated luxations that deteriorate the solidity of the joint and sometimes its functions;
• Intensive use of the joint also supports the development of arthritic thumb;
• Ligament degeneration causes joint hyperlaxity(3).


What factors favour arthritic thumb?

Some factors increase the risk of developing this condition. Among them, let’s name:

• Occupational activities or hobbies that involve repeated movements(4);
• Constitutional laxity (unusual laxity of the thumb) can be caused by certain diseases (Marfan syndrome(5) or Ehler-Danlos syndrome(6));
• Distinctive anatomical characteristics of the trapezium(7).

Arthritic thumb is also frequently associated with other conditions like trigger fingers, De Quervain tenosynovitis, flexor carpi radialis tendinitis (8). Arthritic thumb would be identified in 50% of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome(9). In this case, the symptoms of both conditions are combined.


Are braces satisfying solutions to arthritic thumb?

Many studies(10) were conducted about the use of braces, regardless the brands and models. Braces are used as a first-line treatment to relieve pain. They can also be worn as a complement to analgesics.

Systematically suggested to be worn at night, rigid braces can also be associated with daytime wearing of flexible braces. Flexible braces offer a perfect freedom of motion of the joint . They aim to preserve the hand's function during daily activities once the thumb pain has reduced.

EPITACT® has created two braces intended to ease the pain caused by arthritic thumb.

The rigid brace for arthritic thumb* is to wear at night to immobilise the joint and place it in a resting position. It can also be used during the day if pain is too intense, on your doctor's recommendations. 

The flexible brace for day* reduces traumatic micromovements without impeding mobility during daily activities (manual work, hobbies...).


Discover the other treatment options that soothe the pain caused by arthritic thumb.


*These products are class I medical devices that bear the CE marking under this regulation. Carefully read the instructions before use. Manufacturer: Millet Innovation. 09/2021


For more details about this general and simplified approach, here are further sources:

(1)Vaghela KR, Patel NK, Sarraf KM, Owers K. Severe destructive arthritis of the carpometacarpal joint : a diagnosis of exclusion case report. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil 2013;15:653-7

(2)McCarthy GM, Carrera GF, Ryan LM. Acute calcific periarthritis of the finger joints : a syndrome of women. J Rheumatol 1993;20:1077-80

(3)Manson TT, Pfaeffle HJ, Herdon JH, Tomaino MM, Fischer KJ. Forearm rotation alters interosseous ligament strain distribution. J Hand Surg Am 2000;25:1058-63

(4)Carlson MG, Warner KK, Meyers KN, Hearns KA, Kok PL. Anatomy of the thumb metacarpophalangeal ulnar and radial collateral ligaments. J Hand Surg Am 2012;37:2021-6

(5)Szabo RM, Peterson B. Scaphotrapezial arthritis after a carpometa-carpal fusion in a patient with Marfan’s Syndrome : case report. J Hand Surg Eur Vol 2008;33:806-9

(6)Uzak AS, Fryns JP, Dundar M. Syndromes presenting adducted thumb with/without clubfoot and Dundar syndrome. Genet Couns 2014;25:159-69 ­

(7)Saffar P, Goffin D, Galbiatti A. Dynamics of the thumb in arthritis . Ann Chir Main Memb Super 1990;9:21 2-8.

(8)Delcambre B, Bera-Louville A, Guyot-Drouot MH. Osteoarthritis of the fingers and trapeziometacarpal joints. Joint Bone Spine2001;68:339-47.

(9)Pellegrini VD Jr. Osteoarthritis at the base of the thumb. Orthop Clin North Am 1992;23:83-102

(10)Becker SJ, Bot AG, Curley SE, Jupiter JB, Ring.F D. JB. A prospective randomized comparison of neoprene vs thermoplast hand-based thumb spica splinting for trapeziometacarpal arthrosis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2013;21:668-75.

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