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If you experience pain in or the inability to move your thumb, the Penn Integrated Hand Program can perform a complete evaluation of your condition and develop a treatment plan to improve your hand function and eliminate any pain.

Our surgeons work closely with other specialists in the treatment of basal joint arthritis. This includes specialists in nerves, tendons and plastic surgery. All of our surgeons are considered experts in their fields and are at the forefront of innovative solutions for hand and wrist conditions.

Treatment for Basal Joint Arthritis

Our surgeons will perform a thorough evaluation, including digital imaging, to determine how severe the arthritis has become. Our surgeon may use an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and assess the surrounding bones for other changes or causes of pain.

Non-surgical Options for Thumb Arthritis

For basal joint arthritis, the first line of treatment is generally anti-inflammatory medications and bracing. A brace leaves your wrist free but immobilizes the bottom of your thumb, only allowing the last joint in your thumb to move.

Other non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Custom splint - Our hand therapists will make a mold of your hand to custom create a brace to fit your hand.
  • Injection - If the thumb brace and anti-inflammatory medications are not helping, then the next option is an injection into the base of the thumb. For those with very mild arthritis, one injection can often provide up to a year of relief.

Thumb Arthritis Surgery

When non-surgical treatment is ineffective, you may want to discuss surgery with our surgeons. There are two different surgical techniques that we may recommend for thumb arthritis, depending on the extent of arthritis in the joint: 1) fusion of the bones or 2) removing part of the thumb joint and reconstructing it.

Fusion

A joint fusion joins or "welds together" the two bones that make up your arthritic thumb joint. A fusion keeps the diseased joint from moving so that pain is eliminated.

Reconstructive Surgery of the Thumb

Our surgeons have performed reconstructive surgery to treat arthritis at the base of the thumb with very good outcomes and patient satisfaction.

The procedure involves removing the arthritic bone at the bottom of the thumb. Over time the void that is left is filled in with scar tissue, which acts as a pillow for the thumb bone to push on, rather than another hard bone.

Our surgeons may use small suture anchors to help the thumb heal, or use a “tightrope” technique, in which the thumb is suspended with a strong suture. Another option may be to wrap one of your tendons around the remaining bone to hold it up while it heals.

What is basal joint arthritis?

Basal joint arthritis is a very common type of arthritis that affects the part of the thumb that’s right next to your wrist. It occurs when cartilage wears away from the ends of the bones that form the joint at the base of your thumb. It causes pain, especially when you try to pinch or grab things.

Also called thumb arthritis, this condition affects the non-dominant hand more often than the dominant hand. That's because your non-dominant hand is the one that stabilizes things with your thumb, while your dominant hand does the finer movements. The muscle at the base of the thumb is one of the most important muscles in your hand.

Symptoms of Basal Joint Arthritis

The first sign of thumb arthritis is usually pain at the base of the thumb when you try to pinch or grab an object.

Other symptoms of thumb arthritis include:

  • Enlarged, bony-looking joint at the base of the thumb
  • Limited range of motion of the thumb
  • Swelling and tenderness at the base of the thumb

Who can get basal joint arthritis?

Basal joint arthritis is often caused by normal wear and tear of the body during the aging process.

It is more common in women than men and appears usually over the age of 50. It can also appear in those who have had previous injury to the thumb joint.

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