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Thumb Arthritis Treatment

Thumb arthritis can cause chronic discomfort and a limited range of motion in your hands. At first, stabilization, medications, and injections can dramatically reduce pain and inflammation. However, the condition is degenerative. As your soft tissues continue to wear away, your pain will be more pronounced. Eventually, the condition may be too severe for these conservative treatments. Therefore, Gregg A. Vagner, M.D., offers advanced surgery as part of his  thumb arthritis treatment in Austin, TX. Through surgery, he can stabilize your joint or completely replace it. Either way, surgery has a high success rate. It can greatly improve your manual dexterity, reduce your discomfort, and even give you greater personal independence.

thumb arthritis
Thumb arthritis becomes more pronounced as soft tissues of the joint continue to degrade.

What Is Thumb Arthritis?

Thumb arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis that affects the carpometacarpal joint at the base of the thumb. Over the years, constant hand movements can wear away the cartilage that cushions this joint. Your bones will rub together every time they move, often resulting in painful friction. Additionally, the ligaments can weaken, allowing your thumb joint to slip out of place.

If you are experiencing pronounced discomfort, or if injections no longer give you relief, you may benefit from surgery.

Thumb arthritis is a degenerative condition, and it is frequently the result of advanced age. It most often occurs in senior patients. Nonetheless, it is becoming more common in younger individuals between the ages of 40 and 60. At any age, it is more likely to affect women than men. In addition, being overweight, having congenital defects, suffering past thumb injuries, and working in jobs that require repetitive hand movements can increase the risk of thumb arthritis.

Hand with thumb glowing red to indicate pain

A limited range of motion and function in the thumbs can dramatically reduce your quality of life. 

The Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis

Thumb pain is by far the most common symptom of arthritis in this area. Often, discomfort will be most noticeable with certain movements, such as opening jars, holding books, or turning keys. In severe cases, the pain can make these motions virtually impossible. Other symptoms can include:

  • Swelling in the base of your thumb
  • A bony lump underneath your thumb
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness in your hands

Diagnosing the Condition

To diagnose thumb arthritis, Dr. Vagner will first conduct a physical exam. This will allow him to grade the condition based on its severity. Holding the joint, he will move your thumb against your wrist bone. If this causes pain, or produces a gritty feeling or grinding sound, it could indicate that the bones are rubbing against each other.

In addition to a physical examination, Dr. Vagner will also take x-rays. Diagnostic imaging can help him evaluate the underlying structures of the thumb and identify any bone spurs, eroded cartilage, or loss of joint space.

Arthritis Treatment with Dr. Vagner

Dr. Vagner will first conduct a physical exam, and he will take x-rays. In this way, he can diagnose thumb arthritis, and he can grade the condition based on its severity. Taking a conservative approach, he will typically begin with bracing and physical therapy. Stabilizing your joint can reduce inflammation. It can also help you learn new, healthier ways to hold your joint as you complete routine tasks. If this protocol does not provide sufficient relief, Dr. Vagner may recommend cortisone injections to ease inflammation and discomfort.

If you are experiencing pronounced discomfort, or if injections no longer give you relief, you may benefit from surgery. There are several surgical treatments that can effectively address thumb arthritis, including:

  • Open surgery (osteotomy): During this procedure, Dr. Vagner will reposition the bones and stabilize the joint with pins. You will need to wear a splint or cast for about four to eight weeks. For several more weeks, you will wear a removable splint, and you will undergo regular physical therapy. This is the most common type of surgery when treating thumb arthritis.
  • Arthroplasty: Similar to a hip or knee replacement, Dr. Vagner can remove the damaged joint and replace it with an implant. These biocompatible devices are fabricated with surgical-grade metal or pyrocarbon. This procedure is typically reserved for older patients with few functional demands or for younger patients with advanced disease.
  • Tissue grafting: In some cases, Dr. Vagner may graft tissue, using your own tendon to connect the two sides of the joint. This option is often recommended for individuals with early arthritis symptoms who have not yet sustained cartilage loss. This procedure can effectively alleviate pain and prevent the progression of the disease.

During an initial consultation at our office, Dr. Vagner will discuss each option with you in detail. After a comprehensive examination, he can determine which treatment will most effectively meet your needs.

Immediately following Your Procedure

Immediately after your surgery, your thumb will be fitted with pads and placed in a splint. This will help stabilize the joint and promote healing. Like any surgical procedure, patients can expect to have some degree of discomfort and swelling. However, you will be provided with prescription medications to help mitigate these side effects.

If you are suffering from thumb arthritis, Dr. Vagner's care can reduce your chronic discomfort and give you greater dexterity.

For the first few days of recovery, you will be encouraged to elevate your hand as much as possible. This will help alleviate soreness and minimize inflammation. You may also be instructed to gently move your hand and fingers to aid in circulation and reduce stiffness.

Approximately one week after your surgery, you will return to our offices for your first follow-up visit. During this appointment, your bandages and dressings will be removed and Dr. Vagner will evaluate your progress.

Monitoring Your Recovery

Several weeks following the surgery, your splint will be removed and you will begin physical therapy. Overseen by a certified hand therapist, this process involves simple exercises to restore mobility and overall range of motion. After about two to four weeks of light exercises, you will move on to strength movements. Collaborating with your physical therapist, Dr. Vagner will monitor your recovery to help you regain as much normal hand movement as possible.

In most cases, patients can return to routine activities about three months after their surgery. However, the exact recovery timeline will depend on the severity of your condition and other details regarding your treatment.

Tips to Promote Healing

To enjoy a comfortable and successful recovery:

  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Drink lots of water and eat a healthy diet.
  • Use caution when resuming normal activity.
  • Check with your doctor before going swimming or submerging your hand in water.
  • Closely adhere to the post-surgical instructions provided by Dr. Vagner.

Recovery after thumb arthritis surgery takes time and patience. However, once the healing period is complete, patients can expect to enjoy decreased pain and an improved quality of life.

Contact Us to Achieve Lasting Pain Relief

If you are suffering from the symptoms of thumb arthritis, contact our office today. Dr. Vagner's care can reduce your chronic discomfort and give you greater dexterity.

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"I am committed to using experience, along with the latest techniques and technologies, to help my patients achieve the full function, mobility, and comfort in their hand, wrist, and arm that they experienced prior to their injury."

Dr. Gregg Vagner


Austin Office

4611 Guadalupe St
Ste 200
Austin, TX 78751

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Cedar Park Office

715 Discovery Blvd
Ste 102
Cedar Park, TX 78613

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Lakeway Office

5329 Serene Hills Dr
Ste 202
Austin, TX 78738

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