Base of Thumb (Basal Joint) Arthritis

Symptomatic Relief of Thumb Arthritis


Age-related wear and tear of the joint attaching the thumb to the hand is known as basal joint arthritis. This joint provides a significant range of motion to the thumb but is commonly affected by osteoarthritis. This can lead to large amounts of pain on movement of the thumb.


Arthritis of any joint commonly occurs with advancing age. Arthritis may be provoked or worsened by previous trauma to the thumb. Underlying health conditions, including obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and connective tissue diseases, can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis of the thumb.


The major symptom of basal joint arthritis is pain, particularly on movement of the thumb. With worsening disease, this pain may occur at rest. This pain may cause apparent weakness in the movements of the thumb, making it difficult to grip objects.


Following a history and examination taken by your doctor, you will usually have hand X-rays to identify the level of damage occurring within the thumb joint.


Definitive treatment of thumb arthritis is surgery. Surgery may involve removal of the damaged joint surfaces and replacement with a piece of tendon to cushion the joint. Alternatively, a surgeon may opt for bone fusion, which may reduce pain but ultimately restrict movement of the thumb. These operations are typically performed under general anaesthetic. As with any operation, there is a small risk of postoperative pain, bleeding, infection and damage to surrounding structures, including blood vessels and nerves. Mr Anton Fries, Consultant in reconstructive hand and plastic surgery, would be delighted to discuss management of your basal joint arthritis during a private consultation.


Over the counter pain relief, such as paracetamol, is the first line treatment for mild osteoarthritis. With worsening severity, your doctor may recommend steroid injections into the thumb. This aims to reduce pain and inflammation for a longer period than painkillers alone.


Splints may be used to support the thumb, which aim to reduce pain and deformity caused by arthritis. These splints are typically worn at night or during repetitive hand activities, such as prolonged keyboard typing.