Thumb Arthritis

Thumb arthritis is a degenerative condition that can cause chronic discomfort and a limited range of motion in your hands.

Dr. Gregg A. Vagner offers both conservative and surgical thumb arthritis treatment to improve dexterity and reduce your discomfort.

When should you pursue treatment for thumb arthritis at his practice serving Austin and Cedar Park, TX?

Most Common Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis

Thumb Pain

Thumb pain is by far the most common symptom of arthritis. Often, discomfort will be most noticeable with certain movements, such as opening jars, holding books, or turning keys.


Many patients also notice swelling at the base of the thumb that persists even with conservative hand exercises.

Bony Lump

As the condition progresses, you might notice that the base of your thumb looks larger than usual or has a distinct bump.

Stiffness or Weakness

A stiff or weak thumb can make everyday movements difficult or even impossible.

Are you at risk of developing thumb arthritis?

Top Risk Factors Include:


Thumb arthritis is a degenerative condition that often develops as we age. It usually occurs in senior patients, but has recently become more common in younger patients between the ages of 40 and 60. 


According to the Arthritis Foundation®, arthritis is generally more common among women than among men

Overall Health & Lifestyle

Congenital defects, past thumb injuries, being overweight, and jobs that require repetitive hand movements can also increase the risk of thumb arthritis.

But what causes it?

Natural Wear & Tear Can Lead to Pain and Disfunction 

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

How is thumb arthritis diagnosed?

A Thorough  Yet Simple Examination

To diagnose thumb arthritis, Dr. Vagner will conduct a physical exam and review X-rays. During the physical, he will evaluate your hand for any visible swelling or lumps. He will then hold the joint and move your thumb against your wrist bone. If this causes pain or produces a gritty feeling or grinding sound, your bones may be rubbing against each other. With the x-rays, he can visualize underlying structures of the thumb and identify any bone spurs, eroded cartilage, or loss of joint space. Based on these two exams, the doctor can determine whether you suffer from thumb arthritis and the severity of your condition. He might recommend non-surgical solutions or in severe cases, hand surgery.

Doctor examining patient's hand

Don't worry: thumb arthritis is preventable...

Taking Precautions Can Minimize the Effects of Arthritis

Practice Exercises 

Regularly performing hand exercises that involve bending, flexing, and finger touching can help strengthen your muscles and maintain flexibility. Implementing a schedule with reminders can be helpful in creating good habits.

Working Carefully

If you perform manual labor that requires a lot of work with your hands such as lifting, pulling, or shoveling, you should take care to reduce the strain on your thumbs. You can also limit or avoid sports activities that require gripping and punching.

Timely Treatment for Hand Injuries 

It is important that you seek treatment for thumb and hand injuries as soon as possible to prevent thumb arthritis and other consequences. Physical therapy and even surgery can help restore proper function and avoid wear on joints and muscles.

More Information About Thumb Arthritis Treatment

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. Dr. Vagner offers advanced surgery as part of his thumb arthritis treatment in Austin and Cedar Park, 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.

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. 

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 office 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.

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

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.

Gregg A. Vagner, M.D.

Dr. Vagner is a double board-certified orthopedic and hand surgeon who combines the latest research and techniques to treat the hands, wrists, and elbows. His accolades and roles in his field include: 

  • Distinguished Surgeon of the Year Award - Austin Area Association of Perioperative Medicine
  • Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery in Perioperative Care - Dell Medical School
  • Hand Surgery Consultant - University of Texas Athletic Department

To schedule an appointment at any of our office locationsreach out to us online or call (512) 454-4561.

Dr. Vagner
Gregg A. Vagner, M.D.

Gregg A. Vagner, M.D.

Dr. Gregg A. Vagner is a double board-certified surgeon specializing in hand, wrist, and elbow injuries. With three locations in greater Austin, TX, Dr. Vagner provides conservative care for:

To request an appointment with Dr. Vagner, please contact us online or call (512) 454-4561.

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