How to Diagnose & Treat Carpometacarpal Joint Arthritis in the Hand

Joint arthritis is a common condition throughout the body. Carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthritis affects the thumb and hand, causing pain, discomfort, and difficulty with routine tasks. Understanding joint arthritis can help you identify signs and symptoms of this condition in yourself and others you may care for. Fortunately, short-term nonsurgical and long-term surgical treatments for this condition can relieve pain and restore the range of motion in your hand. Speak to your doctor for a professional diagnosis and treatment plan if you suspect joint arthritis.

What Is CMC Joint Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the protective cartilage around a joint wears away, leaving the bones to rub against one another. The CMC joint is the basal joint found at the base of the thumb. This joint enables the thumb to pivot, swivel, and move in gripping or pinching motions. Thus, CMC joint arthritis, also known as CMC osteoarthritis, is a condition where osteoarthritis develops where the thumb meets the hand.

Symptoms of CMC Joint Arthritis

Your CMC joint makes it possible to pinch, grip, and snap your fingers. If you’re having trouble with this joint, you may find it painful or difficult to complete simple actions like turning a key in a lock, gripping and turning a door knob, or snapping your fingers. Other symptoms include:

You may also notice a visible manifestation of this condition. The base of the thumb can appear enlarged or out of joint. You may also develop a bump over the basal joint.

Causes of CMC Joint Arthritis

Carpometacarpal osteoarthritis is more common in women than men, and it usually occurs in individuals over 40 years of age. Carpometacarpal osteoarthritis affects as many as 11% of men and 33% of women in their 50s and 60s. Sustaining prior injuries to the joint or using the thumb in repetitive movements increases the likelihood of developing CMC joint arthritis. Carpometacarpal osteoarthritis is more common in individuals who suffer from obesity, malformed joints, and joint ligament laxity.

How CMC Joint Arthritis Is Diagnosed

Your doctor will begin with a visual examination of your hand and thumb to look for swelling, bumps, or a bony prominence over the CMC joint. They may manipulate your CMC joint by holding your thumb and hand to move the joint around. This is known as a CMC grind test. If you’re suffering from CMC osteoarthritis, your doctor may hear a grinding noise or notice a gritty feeling as the bones rub against one another.

Your doctor will also ask you about your individual symptoms. They’ll want to know if the CMC grind test causes any pain or discomfort. They’ll also inquire about any swelling, pain, or weakness you’ve experienced. If certain motions and activities agitate your CMC joint, this will give your doctor valuable clues as to the source of your discomfort. Tell your doctor if you’ve suffered any previous thumb or hand injuries.

If the physical examination suggests CMC osteoarthritis, your doctor may order an X-ray of your hand. This can show where the joint has worn away. An X-ray will also alert your doctor to any bone spurs or narrowing of the joint space around the thumb.

Treatment Options for CMC Joint Arthritis

You can treat CMC joint arthritis with short-term nonsurgical options or through a surgical procedure that can provide lasting results.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Pain associated with CMC osteoarthritis can often be managed nonsurgically, particularly for patients in the early stages of the disease. Nonsurgical treatment typically includes a combination of the following:

Carpometacarpal osteoarthritis is a long-term condition, so patients must find lasting ways to manage it. This typically includes adjusting daily activities to make them easier on the thumb joint. Pen grips, jar openers, spring-action scissors, and doorknob extensions can all help ease stress on the CMC joint.

While the above treatments may provide temporary relief, they cannot cure the condition. Some options, like corticosteroid injections, may relieve pain for several months at a time. As the joint arthritis progresses, you may need to consider surgical treatments instead.

Surgical Treatment

There are several surgical treatment options that can relieve pain from CMC joint arthritis.

What To Do If You Experience Hand Pain

If you’re suffering from any hand pain, it’s important to diagnose and treat it as soon as possible. Our experts at The Hand and Wrist Institute can assess your condition and work with you to develop a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms and restore functionality in your hand. Contact us to make your appointment now.


Image by Zacke Feller Licensed via Unsplash

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.