Effective Treatments for Rizarthrosis

03 November, 2020
Rizarthrosis isn't exactly curable, but there are some treatment options that can significantly slow the progress of the disease.

Arthrosis is a degenerative disease that affects thousands of people and is especially common in older adults. Rizarthrosis is a specific kind of arthrosis that affects the base of the thumb. Today we’re going to learn a little more about it and some of the available treatments for rizarthrosis.

Rizarthrosis: what is it?

Rizarthrosis is arthrosis that affects the trapeziometacarpal joint, which is where the proximal finger bone joins the hand. Arthrosis is the erosion of the cartilage that separates, protects, and lubricates the joint. As a result, the bone structures are too close together and there’s nothing to keep them apart. The bones end up touching each other, which causes pain.

This is the second most common type of arthrosis that affects the bones of the hand. Our constant use of cell phones and computers seems to be wearing on the structures and bones of our hands, so we’ll likely see the rate of rizarthrosis continue to rise.

This disease primarily affects older adults, with the onset of symptoms beginning between 40 and 50 years of age. It’s associated with obesity; if you’re overweight you’re more likely to get rizarthrosis. Lastly, it’s more common in women than in men.

Symptoms

As we mentioned before, rizarthrosis is when the cartilage at the base of your thumb wears away and the bones make contact. Consequently, the first symptom is usually pain at the base of the thumb. Also, because the pain becomes worse when there’s more contact between the bones, the disease gets worse with movement and improves with rest. Individuals with rizarthrosis usually have more pain if they’re doing something that requires a certain amount of strength or force.

A person rubbing their hand.

As the disease progresses, you notice that you’ll start to lose strength in the thumb. Thumb mobility will also be affected, and the area will start to appear deformed. Those three symptoms will start off as mildly irritating but will get worse as the cartilage wears down.

A medical professional will diagnosis rizarthrosis with a simple x-ray. There, they’ll be able to see how close the bones are to each other and how much cartilage is left.

Treatments for rizarthrosis

There’s no cure for this condition. The goal of the treatments for rizarthrosis, then, is to slow or stop the progress of the disease. The other objective is to relieve pain and maintain as much mobility in the thumb as possible. These are the treatment options:

  • Physical therapy. To maintain mobility and work on a range of motion, regular physical therapy sessions are key. Working the musculature can also help to take pressure away from the joint, which will relieve some of the pain. Physical therapists sometimes use techniques such as heat or magnets to relieve pain, improve mobility, and potentially slow the progress of the condition.
Someone doing an ultrasound on a thumb with rizarthrosis.

  • Doing exercises at home. In addition to specific exercises that the physical therapist recommends, it’s important to exercise the hand with everyday movements. In other words, don’t stop using it because it hurts. Movement is therapy. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, since obesity and being overweight exacerbate the symptoms. If possible, avoid carrying heavy groceries, use lightweight utensils and cookware, and try not to use your thumb in ways that exacerbate your symptoms. You can also soak your hands in hot water for some at-home heat therapy. Not only does it help relax those muscles, but it also feels amazing.
  • Splints. There are splints and orthotics that you can wear to help alleviate some of the pressure on the affected joint.
  • Medications. Analgesic and anti-inflammatories can help with the symptoms if you’re having a flare-up. Corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid injections can also improve and prolong joint function.

Lastly, surgical intervention is the last resort when more conservative treatments aren’t working. When all else fails, surgery can help slow the progress of the disease.

  • R. Lax-Pérez, F. Lajara-Marco, B. Picazo-Gabaldón et al. Tratamiento de la rizartrosis mediante prótesis trapeciometacarpiana tipo ARPE. Estudio retrospectivo. Rev Iberoam Cir Mano 2011; 39(01): 047-053
  • E.García-Paredero, D.Cecilia-López, L.Suárez-Arias et al. Resultados del tratamiento quirúrgico de la rizartrosis mediante artrodesis trapeciometacarpiana con placa de osteosíntesis cuadrangular. Volume 54, Issue 4, July–August 2010, Pages 203-207
  • I.Herráiz-Gastesi, I.Villarreal-Salcedo, A.M.Vidal-Abós. Tratamiento rehabilitador postoperatorio de un caso avanzado de rizartrosis del pulgar. Volume 46, Issue 1, January–March 2012, Pages 60-63