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Painful Thumb? How to Rehab Your Thumb Osteoarthritis?

What is Osteoarthritis (OA) ?

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease around the world! There are more than 30 million people suffering this degenerative joint problem in the United States alone. It is also the leading cause of chronic disability in older population, costing the US at least $185 billion annually!

Among all the arthritis, thumb basal (1st carpalmetacarpal) joint osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis affecting your hand function in daily life.



*Repetitive strains at work or daily life

Previous trauma or injuries

*Obesity (mainly affect your weight-bearing joint)


In a normal joint, cartilage covers the ends of the bones and allows them to move smoothly and painlessly against one another. With OA the cartilage later wears out and the bones rub against each other.


⭐ Signs & Symptoms Osteoarthritis

*Joint Pain at base of the thumb



*Decreased range of motion, pinch & grip strength   

Joint Deformity & Dislocation (later stage)

 Rest v.s. Exercise Balance

“Resting should be balanced with an exercise program!”

Too much exercise may damage your joints and increase your pain; but too little exercise can cause muscles weakness and joints stiffness. The amount of rest and exercise will vary depending on the stage of your arthritis.


 Joint Protection Principles 

*Respect Your Pain

STOP or modify any activity which is causing joint pain.

*Avoid Prolonged Gripping & Pinching 


Reduce Excessive Loading on Your Thumb 

This is easily resolved by building up handles, lifting with larger joints, using non-slip surfaces, and eliminating the need for forceful pinching.


*Use Assistive Device to Relieve the Load on Painful Joints 

Jar opener or Dycem can make opening a tight jar a lot easier for people with thumb OA.

Foam tube can enlarge the handle of your pen, toothbrush or other small objects, and more and more assistive devices are available now!


 Energy Conservation

People with joint arthritis become fatigue easily. It is essential to conserve your energy to prevent excessive stress on the arthritic joints.

1. Alternate between heavy and light tasks throughout the day.

2. Pace yourself to allow adequate resting between different activities or house chores.

3. Avoid maintaining a static posture for more than 2 hours.

4. Store the most used supplies or tools in an easily-accessible position. You should avoid unnecessary reaching, or bending.


 Thumb Orthosis/Braces  

It is recommended to wear a thumb orthosis or brace to rest your arthritic joint in an optimal position.

Your hand therapist can fabricate a custom-made, thermoplastic orthosis, to protect your thumb basal joint from overusing, or repetitive strain in daily life. Or a ready-made thumb orthosis (such as PUSH splint) can be very helpful as well!



A soft-padding brace provides some support without restricting your motion. However, it may NOT be ideal for acute arthritis, which needs more protection and resting.




Next, what are the good exercises for thumb OA

Andrew Tan, OTR/L, CHT, CKTP, CEAS
Latest posts by Andrew Tan, OTR/L, CHT, CKTP, CEAS (see all)

Andrew Tan, OTR/L, CHT, CKTP, CEAS

The founder of "Rehab For A Better Life", specialized in ergonomic consultation, rehabilitation for upper extremity injuries, sports injuries and work-related injuries. Andrew believes rehab-related knowledge should be easy to learn and follow at home, because "knowledge is power only when we can share it" !

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