Thumb arthritis occurs when the cartilage in the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint wears away.
Thumb arthritis is common with aging and occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of the bones that form the joint at the base of your thumb — also known as the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint.
Thumb arthritis can cause severe pain, swelling, and decreased strength and range of motion, making it difficult to do simple tasks, such as turning doorknobs and opening jars. Treatment generally involves a combination of medication and splints. Severe thumb arthritis might require surgery.
Products & Services
Pain is the first and most common symptom of thumb arthritis. Pain can occur at the base of your thumb when you grip, grasp or pinch an object, or use your thumb to apply force.
Other signs and symptoms might include:
- Swelling, stiffness and tenderness at the base of your thumb
- Decreased strength when pinching or grasping objects
- Decreased range of motion
- Enlarged or bony appearance of the joint at the base of your thumb
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have persistent swelling, stiffness or pain at the base of your thumb.
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the latest health information.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
Thumb arthritis commonly occurs with aging. Previous trauma or injury to the thumb joint also can cause thumb arthritis.
In a normal thumb joint, cartilage covers the ends of the bones — acting as a cushion and allowing the bones to glide smoothly against each other. With thumb arthritis, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones deteriorates, and its smooth surface roughens. The bones then rub against each other, resulting in friction and joint damage.
The damage to the joint might result in growth of new bone along the sides of the existing bone (bone spurs), which can produce noticeable lumps on your thumb joint.
Factors that can increase your risk of thumb arthritis include:
- Female sex.
- Age above 40 years.
- Certain hereditary conditions, such as joint ligament laxity and malformed joints.
- Injuries to your thumb joint, such as fractures and sprains.
- Diseases that change the normal structure and function of cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Although osteoarthritis is the most common cause of thumb arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the CMC joint, usually to a lesser extent than other joints of the hand.
- Activities and jobs that put high stress on the thumb joint.
June 16, 2022
- Bray J, et al. Evaluation of the patient with thumb pain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Arthritis of the base of the thumb. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=AsKorJBUZsw%3d&portalid=1. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Thumb arthritis. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-conditions/thumb-arthritis. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Arthritis of the thumb. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/arthritis-of-the-thumb/. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Rath L. Surgery for thumb arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/joint-surgery/types/other/new-thumb-surgery-options.php. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Fox P, et al. Osteoarthritis in the hand and wrist. In: Plastic Surgery: Volume 6: Hand and Upper Extremity. 4th ed. London, England: Elsevier Saunders; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Kloppenburg M, et al. Management of hand osteoarthritis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Baker R, et al. Evidence-based medicine: Thumb basal joint arthritis. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2017;139:256.
Products & Services