Three Surgical Options For Thumb Arthritis

Developing arthritis in your thumb can be quite debilitating. Even though it is a small joint, you use your thumb almost constantly throughout the day, and having to modify your use of your thumb due to pain can result in dramatic changes in lifestyle. Sure, you can use pain relievers and topical agents, but they only work so well and for so long. For lasting relief, you should look into these three surgical options for addressing the arthritis.

Ligament Reconstruction

If your arthritis has predominantly affected the ligaments in your thumb, which is quite common, then your orthopedic surgeon may recommend a procedure in which the ligaments are removed and replaced with tendon tissue. The tendon tissue is usually obtained from a tendon in the wrist. Replacing these ligaments can give patients renewed control over the thumb while also alleviating a lot of the pain. The new, shorter ligaments also reduce wear and tear on the thumb joint, helping to prevent the arthritis from worsening. The only downfall is that this procedure can take a while to heal from since there will be incisions in both the wrist and thumb.

Distraction Arthroplasty

If you have a lot of cartilage damage due to arthritis already, then your doctor may recommend a procedure in which your trapezium bone — the bone in your wrist that connects to your thumb — is stabilized with a wire. This keeps the trapezium from moving so there is less friction against the cartilage. With the trapezium stabilized, the cartilage can start to heal. After a few weeks, the wire will be removed so the trapezium can move again. Most patients experience a marked reduction in pain with this procedure, although it can be a bit cumbersome not to have use of the thumb for a few weeks.

Joint Replacement

If the cartilage in the thumb is extensively damaged beyond repair, then your orthopedic surgeon may recommend a total thumb replacement. Both of the bones of your thumb will be removed, and they'll be replaced with a joint made from metal with silicone pads. Patients do typically need a few weeks of physical therapy as they recover from a total thumb replacement, but most recover well and have better use of their thumb than they've had in years.

You do not have to go on living with the pain of thumb arthritis. Talk to your doctor or an orthopedic surgeon about the procedures described above.