Symptoms and Causes of Basilar Joint Arthritis

Trying to open a jar and experiencing sudden pain is a frightening event for some patients who might be suffering from basilar joint arthritis, or thumb arthritis.  The source of their discomfort resides in the basilar joint of the thumb.  In some cases, hand surgery might be the only way to correct the disorder.  Understanding the symptoms and causes can help a patient decide on an acceptable course of treatment.

Basilar Joint Arthritis Symptoms

Patients diagnosed with thumb arthritis by a hand doctor can experience a variety of symptoms.  The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons indicates that these are the most common signs:

  • Pain when attempting gripping or pinching activities like turning a key in a lock or snapping the fingers
  • Tenderness and swelling at the base of the thumb
  • Aching after extended use
  • A loss of strength after pinching or gripping
  • The appearance of an enlarged, out-of-place digit
  • A bump or bony spot on top of the joint
  • Limited range of motion

Causes and Risk Factors

This condition develops when cartilage rubs away from the ends of bones making up the carpometacarpal (thumb) joint.  The Mayo Clinic reports that when cartilage deteriorates, thumb bones start to rub against one another.  The result is friction, then damage to the joint.  This could mean the development of lumps on the thumb joint that a hand surgeon diagnoses as bone spurs.

The two most common causes of thumb arthritis are osteoarthritis from aging and prior injury or trauma to the thumb.  Obesity and diseases like rheumatoid arthritis that alter cartilage function boost risk. The University of Washington cites these important risk factors:

  • Being female
  • Age older than 40
  • Having deformed joints
  • Joint ligament laxity
  • Repetitive load on the joint

Options from a Hand Surgeon

Patients who need help for the pain associated with thumb arthritis are typically treated by a hand specialist.  Initial treatment options are usually conservative measures like splinting, resting a joint, use of heat and ice, anti-inflammatory injections, and over-the-counter medications for pain.

When these options do not result in sufficient improvement, a recommendation of surgery is likely.

The Mayo Clinic indicates that surgeons use one of these procedures to correct thumb arthritis:

  • Joint fusion (arthrodesis) permanently fuses bones in the joint.  The fused joint experiences no pain when bearing weight but has no flexibility.
  • Osteotomy repositions bones in the thumb to help correct any deformities.
  • Trapeziectomy removes the trapezium bone in the thumb joint.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty) removes all or a portion of the affected joint and replaces it with a graft from a tendon.  This so-called “gold standard” of treatment for thumb arthritis takes only about 30 minutes at an outpatient surgery center.  Tendon removal causes no loss of function in the arm or the hand.