Thumb Base Arthritis

The thumb base joint surfaces are covered by articular cartilage and the joint has a small amount of lubricating fluid.  This allows the joint to move effortlessly with over 100 times less friction than ice moving on ice.   

As we get older it is common to develop some wear and tear to your joint cartilage.  As the cartilage continues to wear, the joint becomes more inflamed and movement becomes less.

What are the causes?

Thumb base arthritis is common.  For most people there is no obvious cause but previous injury can contribute.  Most patients will have osteoarthritis but it can associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is pain at the base of the thumb particularly on pinch grip or opening jars. Loss of movement in lifting the thumb backwards may occur. The middle joint in the thumb can hyperextend (bend backwards) to compensate for this stiffness.  

How is it diagnosed?

Your surgeon can usually make the diagnosis by asking about the symptoms you have and examining your thumb.  An X-ray will usually confirm the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Arthritis at the thumb base can be managed in the initial phases with physiotherapy and splining and painkillers.  Injections can also help for short term relief.  Persistent symptoms can be treated with surgery in the form of trapeziectomy or thumb base fusion. A fusion of the middle joint is sometimes needed.