Treating Basal Joint Arthritis

Back view of hand showing ligament graft replacing joint at base of thumb.

Basal joint arthritis affects the joint at the base of your thumb. Your treatment will depend on how severe the pain is, the type of arthritis you have in this joint, and how worn the joint is.

Nonsurgical treatment

If arthritis is diagnosed early, it often responds to treatment without surgery. Your doctor may put a splint on your thumb for 3 to 6 weeks. This limits movement and helps reduce the inflammation. You may get relief by putting an ice pack on the thumb often. You may be given a pain medicine such as acetaminophen. You may also be given oral anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Your healthcare provider may give you prescription medicines for certain causes of your arthritis. If your symptoms don’t get better, your healthcare provider may give you injections of an anti-inflammatory medicine such as cortisone right into the joint. Or he or she may give you a different injected medicine.

Surgical treatment

If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t relieve the pain and stiffness, or if arthritis has destroyed the joint, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. In a tendon graft surgery, the surgeon removes the diseased joint. Then the joint is rebuilt, usually with a piece of tendon (graft) taken from your arm or wrist. Your arm is numbed (anesthetized) so you don’t feel anything during surgery. You can usually go home the day of surgery. Other surgeries include rebuilding a ligament, complete joint replacement, or bone fusion. Talk with your surgeon about the treatment best for you.

Your recovery after surgery

First your hand will be wrapped in a dressing. Then you’ll have a cast or a splint on your thumb for 4 to 8 weeks. Occasionally, the healthcare provider will put a pin in place during the procedure. These help keep the thumb stable while it heals. Once you can move your thumb, your healthcare provider will give you exercises, or refer you to a physical therapist. Exercises and PT help strengthen the muscles and make the joint more flexible. Full recovery may take several months.