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J Hand Surg Am. 2003 Jul;28(4):597-604.

Sequential wear patterns of the articular cartilage of the thumb carpometacarpal joint in osteoarthritis.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.



The thumb carpometacarpal (CMC) joint is a primary location for osteoarthritis (OA) in the body; however, articular cartilage thickness distribution during progression of OA in the joint has not been reported previously. Determining the cartilage wear patterns within the joint is important in understanding the etiology and treatment of thumb CMC joint OA. This study used cadaveric specimens to investigate the wear patters of the articular surfaces of the trapezium and thumb metacarpal.


A total of 104 fresh-frozen thumb CMC joints were radiographed, disarticulated, and visually staged for OA. Cartilage thickness maps of the trapezium and metacarpal were determined for each joint by using stereophotogrammetry. Average cartilage thickness maps for the trapezium and metacarpal were generated from all specimens for each of 4 stages of OA, showing the progression of cartilage thickness changes with disease.


In normal joints, the surface-wide mean thickness of the articular layers is 0.8 +/- 0.2 mm for the trapezium and 0.7 +/- 0.2 mm for the metacarpal. The average thickness maps were analyzed by anatomic quadrant (dorsal-radial, dorsal-ulnar, volar-radial, volar-ulnar) within the 4 stages of OA. Corresponding quadrants also were compared across the increasing stages of OA. Results show that cartilage degradation is initiated in the radial quadrants of the metacarpal and progresses to the volar quadrants of the articular surface, while significant wear is seen on the dorsal-radial quadrant of the trapezium and progresses to the volar quadrants in late-stage osteoarthritis.


These quantitative results on cartilage thinning agree with previous investigators' reports of high load bearing and low load bearing areas in the CMC joint during functional pinch and grasp positions. Understanding the progression of OA in the thumb CMC joint may aid in the surgical treatment of this disease.

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