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Thumb Arthritis Treatment Overview

Find the right care and learn about different treatments.
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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Mild pain can be treated at home.
  • OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve pain.
  • Splints can be used to reduce pain and improve thumb positioning.
See home treatments

When you may need a provider

  • OTC medications are not helping the pain or stop helping over time.
  • Pain is severe or causes weakness with various movements like pinching and grasping.
See care providers

Emergency Care

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Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling, redness, and increased warmth over the area
  • Sudden sharp pain with a visible deformity, especially after a fall or trauma.

The suppliers listed follow Buoy’s clinical guidelines, but listing the suppliers does not constitute a referral or recommendation by Buoy. When you click on the link and/or engage with these services Buoy will be compensated.

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All treatments for thumb arthritis
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Read more about thumb arthritis care options

When to see a healthcare provider

It is important to see a healthcare provider if your symptoms do not improve in 2–3 weeks of using OTC medications. A provider will be able to make a diagnosis and offer a more specific treatment plan.

Getting diagnosed

Your healthcare provider will physically examine your thumb to check for signs of swelling and deformity, and to test your range of motion. The provider will probably want to take X-rays of the thumb and possibly the opposite thumb for comparison.

What to expect from your visit

  • For mild to moderate cases, your provider may start (or continue) you on OTC medications.
  • They may also write prescriptions for stronger medications like celecoxib (Celebrex).
  • They may refer you to an occupational therapist who can give you exercises, tell you which motions and activities to avoid, and help determine if you need a splint.
  • If the pain is more severe, your provider may inject the affected joint of the thumb with a steroid, which may be done under fluoroscopy (live X-ray).
  • If the steroid injection relieves pain for a few months or more, you and your provider may decide to continue steroid injections a few times a year.
  • If pain relief from a steroid injection does not last long—like a month or less—and medications are also not helping pain, your provider may discuss surgical options.

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can treat mild symptoms.
  • An orthopedic surgeon is a doctor who specializes in conditions of the musculoskeletal system (bones and joints). They treat thumb arthritis and can do steroid injections and surgery.
  • A hand surgeon is a specialized surgeon (usually orthopedic), who specifically treats the hand and wrist. They are qualified to do injections and surgery.
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