The opposable thumb is one of the important musculoskeletal differences that makes humans what they are. The thumb allows us to grip things more securely and perform a variety of tasks more efficiently. However, as a moveable joint, the thumb is susceptible to arthritis, called basilar joint arthritis because it occurs at the base of the thumb. At the Florida Hand Center, we can treat basilar joint arthritis conservatively or with surgery.
About Basilar Joint Arthritis
Arthritis comes in many forms, but the two most common types are autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasitic arthritis, and degenerative arthritis, which usually occurs with increasing age and wear and tear. In both situations, the smooth cartilage that covers and protects the bone of a joint is gradually worn away. This causes friction and damage to the bony surfaces, pain, joint stiffness, swelling and inflammation. In the case of basilar joint arthritis, the area affected is the bottom joint in the thumb.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Basilar Joint Arthritis
Increasing age and previous injuries are risk factors for basilar joint arthritis. Women tend to be more susceptible to this condition than men. Typical symptoms include:
- Pain when you try to grip or pinch something or snap your fingers
- Tenderness and swelling at the bottom of the thumb
- Limited motion and loss of strength in the hand
- Discomfort – most people call it an aching sensation – when using the hands for an extended period
- An enlarged joint or a bump or bony prominence over the affected joint.
- A gritty feeling or grinding sound when you move the joint.
Conservative Treatment for Basilar Joint Arthritis
The earlier conservative treatment is started, the more effective it will be. However, arthritis is a progressive disease and the condition typically worsens over time despite treatment. Conservative strategies include icing the joint and using anti-inflammatory medications. A splint may help limit movement, allowing the joint to rest; it may be worn only at night or intermittently during the day. Steroid joint injections can provide pain relief but cannot be repeated indefinitely.
Surgery for Basilar Joint Arthritis
When conservative measures fail, surgery may be an option. Several procedures are possible; the choice will depend on the actual problem, how much the patient uses his or her hands and other factors. The bones in the thumb can be fused together, although this will limit movement. Another option is to remove part of the joint and reconstruct it with a tendon graft or artificial substance. The procedures are done on an outpatient basis. You’ll wear a cast for four to eight weeks and will need physical therapy. Full recovery typically takes several months.
If you are struggling with symptoms of basilar joint arthritis, please contact us. We can answer any questions you may have or schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic surgeons. Once the surgeon has assessed your situation, you can work together to plan your future care.