Basal thumb arthritis, also known as basal joint arthritis, is a very common condition that affects the joint at the base of the thumb where it meets the wrist. This condition is more common in women, yet men experience it as well. It is usually associated with aging, although a previous injury can also contribute to its development. Over time the cartilage that lines the joints where the thumb moves slowly wears out, or degenerates, resulting in pain and a loss of motion.
Signs of Development
The development of basal joint arthritis occurs gradually, over many years with the use of our hands. The two most common symptoms people experience are thumb pain and stiffness. Patients are often notice weakness and decreased ability to pinch and turn – simple tasks such as opening jars or bottles of water or soda becomes difficult and painful. Inflammation of the joint is why people experience pain. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help the pain and improve overall hand and thumb motion.
How to Treat Basal Joint Arthritis
Hand surgeons and occupational therapists specializing in hand therapy can offer a number of treatment options for patients. The primary goal when treating basal joint arthritis is to reduce pain and swelling while improving hand function.
Basic treatments often include splints, uses of hot and cold (heating pads and ice packs), and hand exercises. Warmth is recommended for relieving stiffness while cold packs are helpful with inflammation.
Physicians often recommend anti-inflammatory medication to limit swelling and reduce pain. Injections may also be beneficial. If however, the condition is advanced or the inflammation doesn’t respond to these options, one might consider surgery to correct the problem.
Surgery for thumb arthritis involves rebuilding and/or replacing the worn out joint surface with new tissue. Today this is usually done using your own tissue rather than an artificial joint. This is a highly successful procedure that preserves thumb motion while eliminating the pain. Learn more about hand and wrist surgery here.
After surgery patients will temporarily wear a supportive brace and attend hand therapy to regain strength and range of motion. Splints provide support and allow the thumb to rest thereby reducing pain and inflammation. Protecting the joint and limiting irritation is an important part of recovery. Occasionally, different splints may be used for day use and others designed for when you sleep may be used.
Can Hand Exercises Help?
Too much activity that involves gripping, pinching and turning can cause pain and should be avoided. Some patients experience positive results with motion exercised performed in warm water as it helps with stiffness, but ask your doctor or therapist first. Often a home exercise program will be combined with therapy to enhance recovery. Hot wax machines have also been helpful with the stiffness and the pain.
Although there is no permanent cure for basal joint arthritis, there are treatments that have been proven to effectively reduce pain and improve hand function. Consultation with a hand surgeon can get you on the right track to the correct diagnosis and the best treatment options for your particular situation. The best thing you can do as a patient is stay informed, understand what may be causing the problem and then explore the options you have for treating your particular situation.