Basal Joint Arthritis: When Your Thumb Stops Being Able To Function Normally

The fact that you have opposable thumbs is what sets you apart from much of the animal kingdom. However, the price of that unique ability can also lead to a unique problem: arthritis in the basal joint of your thumb. If you're starting to suffer from pain in your thumb that's limiting your movements, this is what you should know about basal joint arthritis.

What causes it?

Essentially, genetics and age are the two most common factors that dictate whether or not you're likely to develop the condition. Some people are just genetically prone to arthritis as they age, and it often attacks joints that are used the most. 

How do you know if you have it?

If you already have arthritis in other areas of your body, you'll likely recognize the symptoms: using your thumb with gradually become more difficult. It will be harder to open door knobs, turn the lid on a bottle, or engage in hobbies like playing video games or crocheting. The joint at the base of your thumb may even swell and be tender to the touch.

A visit to the orthopedic specialist can confirm your suspicions fairly easily. Usually, the orthopedic specialist will take X-rays of your hand in order to look at the extent of the damage in your basilar joint and recommend a course of treatment.

How can it be treated?

If the arthritis is still mild, your orthopedic specialist may try injecting anti-inflammatory medication, known as corticosteroids, directly into the thumb base. These injections can decrease your pain and increase the flexibility of the joint. The injections can only be repeated every 3–4 months, however, because the medication can end up weakening the bone, ligaments, and tendons if it is given too frequently.

The degenerative nature of arthritis usually means that surgery is eventually going to be necessary. When surgery is necessary, there are several different types of possible procedures that the surgeon can use, but they all generally involve removing some of the arthritic bone and damaged ligaments from the base of the thumb. A replacement ligament might be constructed out of the tendon in your wrist, another nearby tendon, or artificial material that is used in place of a tendon.

Other surgeries that are less common include hematoma and distraction arthroplasty and total joint replacement. In the first procedure, the surgeon removes the trapezium from your wrist and immobilizes your thumb for six weeks. The idea is that the trapezium is the source of most of the friction in your thumb and, without it, the body can heal itself. Total joint replacement involves the complete removal of your thumb joint and replaces it with an artificial implant.

If you're suffering with pain in your thumb that's limiting your movement and interfering with your daily life, consider talking to an orthopedic specialist like