Symptoms of OA of the CMC

Thumb pain is a symptom that brings many clients into my clinic. A very common cause of thumb pain, especially in women aged 40 years and over, is Osteoarthritis (OA) of the Carpometacarpal joint (CMC joint). The CMC joint is the joint at the base of your thumb, located just above the wrist crease. Pressure directly in this area can be very painful!

Thumb OA


OA is caused by the wearing away of articular cartilage, which is the protective layer on the bone ends, over time. Symptoms of thumb CMC OA includes pain, swelling and loss of thumb strength and motion.

Recommendations for non-surgical treatment

There are many strategies in hand therapy that can help manage (and for some people cure!) your thumb pain. Initially a thumb splint or brace is often recommended to settle your pain and down the track this can worn for heavy tasks, such as gardening. Once your thumb pain has settled, your Hand Therapist can provide you with exercises that will strengthen the right muscles in your thumb. You will learn to engage these muscles when using your thumb, which will help support your CMC joint and reduce your pain (like bracing your core muscles when doing heavy lifting to support your back). The exercises start gentle and progress as you get stronger.

Your Hand Therapist will also massage and release your Adductor Pollicis muscle, which can relieve your symptoms also. The Adductor Pollicis is a muscle in the web of your thumb, it can become very tight and painful and pull your thumb into your palm, which can exacerbate your thumb CMC joint pain.

Patient using Complete Hand Therapy's parrafin wax bath to soothe thumb pain.
Paraffin Wax Bath

Another treatment available for CMC joint OA is the use of a paraffin wax bath, as seen in the photo above. By covering your hands in the warm paraffin wax, the heat provides relief from arthritis pain, sore joints and sore muscles. Paraffin wax bath treatment is a favourite amongst my clients at Complete Hand Therapy.

Thumb pain is very common but there are lots of effective non-surgical treatment options available, so there is really no need to just “put up with it”. There is so much that can be done to improve or resolve your thumb pain. Book in to see your Hand Therapist to find out your best treatment options.