Treating Basal Joint Arthritis

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

This type of arthritis affects the joint at the base of your thumb. Your treatment will depend on how severe the pain is 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 be given a pain medicine such as acetaminophen. You may also be given oral anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. If your symptoms don’t improve, your doctor may give you injections of an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as cortisone, right into the joint.

Surgical treatment

If nonsurgical treatment doesn’t relieve the pain and stiffness, or if arthritis has destroyed the joint, your doctor may recommend surgery. The diseased joint is removed. Then the joint is rebuilt, usually with a piece of tendon (graft) taken from your arm or wrist. Your arm is anesthetized (numbed) so you don’t feel anything during surgery. You can usually go home the day of surgery.

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, a pin will be placed during the procedure. These help keep the thumb stable while it heals. Once you can move your thumb, your doctor will give you exercises, or refer you to a physical therapist, to help strengthen the muscles and make the joint more flexible. Full recovery may take several months.

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