What are the symptoms of thumb arthritis?

Thumb arthritis symptoms

You’re suffering from chronic thumb joint pain? Do you have difficulties opening a jar? Are you losing grip strength or do you have a swollen sore thumb joint?

What if they were all the symptoms of thumb arthritis, also called thumb osteoarthritis? Be aware that osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis), is a condition that worsens over time. This is why you should consult as soon as the first symptoms appear.


Sore thumb joint? Thumb joint pain is the main symptom of thumb arthritis

The first and main symptom of thumb arthritis is sharp pain in the thumb joint (carpometacarpal or CMC joint). This pain at the base of the thumb is intermittent as it often appears during specific movements of the thumb. For example, you can have thumb pain when gripping, pinching or applying force.

Indeed, Movements that entail high precision like inserting a key in a lock or holding a pencil can also cause sore thumb joints. Also, thumb knuckle pain can occur with rotational movements (circumduction).

Experiencing tenderness at the base of your thumb when pinching objects with the index finger is another symptom of thumb arthritis. Sometimes, pain appears sharply and suddenly and can also be more stabbing(1).


Inflammatory flare-ups of arthritis in the thumb

The thumb joint pain related to arthritis is called mechanical pain. This means it happens during your activities and reduces at rest. However, you can have inflammatory flare-ups which cause thumb joint pain even at rest. You can apply ice packs on the affected joint to ease your pain.


Stiffness, decreased grip strength and range of motion

Decreased grip strength is another major symptom of thumb arthritis. As the disease progresses, thumb pain and weakness increase and range of motion at the base of the thumb decreases. This particularly occurs when there is a deformity of the thumb, in the most advanced stages.


Severe thumb arthritis symptoms include thumb deformity

Most of the time, the symptoms of thumb arthritis progresses very slowly. It commonly extends over 10 years approximately. The patient goes from thumb joint pain to progressive Z deformity of the thumb. Functional state of the thumb column gradually worsens and allows the deformity to set up permanently(1).

Bone spurs may develop, resulting in an enlarged appearance at the base of the thumb. Joint space can also reduce and may cause bony contact within the joint.

Unnoticed in the beginning, this unsightly deformity is disabling in daily life. Using the thumb-index pinch becomes difficult and the joint loses flexibility. As a consequence, movements are limited by stiffness at the base of the thumb.


Can I relieve my sore thumb joint?

To avoid stiffness that often requires surgical intervention, mild to more drastic treatment options are available. The treatment includes anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers whereas surgery corrects the deformity.

Moreover, it is recommended to limit harmful movements by keeping your thumb aligned with your forearm as much as possible. For this purpose, EPITACT® has created two thumb support braces that relieve thumb joint pain.

The first one is a flexible thumb support* for your daily activities. Its specific design and fabric help you to intuitively correct the movements that damage your joint while preserving your range of motion.

The second one is a rigid thumb brace* that immobilises your thumb in a neutral position. It is used to ease sore thumb joints at night and rest or during flare-ups. You can also enjoy our special offer* including both the day and the night brace!


However, all sore thumb joints are not necessarily symptoms of thumb arthritis. A pain around the joint at the base of the thumb can reveal other conditions such as tendinitis or rheumatoid arthritis. This is why seeing a specialist remains essential to objectively establish the diagnosis.

Learn about the treatments of thumb arthritis, what it is exactly and what to expect during surgery.


*These solutions are class I medical devices that bear the CE marking under this regulation. Carefully read the instructions before use. Manufacturer: Millet Innovation. 06/2020


For more details about this general and simplified approach, here is another source:

(1)Delcambre B, Bera-Louville A, Guyot-Drouot MH. Osteoarthritis of the fingers and trapeziometacarpal joints. Joint Bone Spine 2001;68:339–47.