The basal joint allows your thumb to move around so you can perform small motor tasks like gripping or pinching. With osteoarthritis the bones become rough and grind over each other when you move, causing more joint damage. Basal joint arthritis can also occur following an injury to the area. The pain of basal joint arthritis is frequently due to inflammation in the joint. Contrary to what one might expect, individuals having more pain do not necessarily have more severe arthritis.

Symptoms of Basal Thumb Arthritis

Hand Pain and Stiffness

You will have pain, tenderness, and stiffness at the base of your thumb. You might also feel a pain when you try to apply mild force, such as when you turn the key in your car, turn a door handle, or snap your fingers.

Swollen Thumb

The base of the thumb may appear swollen and enlarged. You may develop a bony bump or a bent-back appearance (hyperextension) due to improper alignment of the joint as it shifts from its normal positioning.

Decreased Strength and Range of Motion

Pain and inflammation over time can rob your hand of strength and restrict your range of motion, especially when you try to pinch something or clasp an object tightly. Small motor tasks that were once a matter of routine like opening jars, holding a drink, or using buttons, zippers, become difficult and painful to attempt.


While there is no cure for basal joint arthritis, there are simple treatments that effectively relieve the symptoms in many individuals. Because osteoarthritis of the basal joint is a chronic condition, it is important to protect and avoid irritating the joint. The goal of physical therapy is to teach individuals with this condition how to control pain and swelling. A physical or occupational therapist can also teach you how to perform range-of-motion exercises to improve function.

Here are some of the treatments that may be recommended by your physician or physical therapist:

  • Alternating heat and cold to relieve inflammation and pain. Warmth is often effective in temporarily relieving the stiffness and pain of basal joint arthritis. However, if the joint is swollen and inflamed, a cold pack is a better choice.
  • An over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory medication. If you they don’t work, ask your doctor if there is a stronger prescription medication that may help.
  • Corticosteroid injections can relieve pain and reduce inflammation for a longer period of time than some other medications.
  • Removable splints for the basal joint of the thumb can provide temporary support for your thumb and wrist, limiting movement so your joints can rest.


If the other treatments are not effective, your physician may recommend surgery.  A surgeon can fuse the bones of your joint together, in which the arthritic surface is removed and the bones on each side of the joint are fused together, eliminating motion from the problem joint. For individuals who do require surgery, therapists fabricate post-operative splints and provide treatments following surgery to help restore motion and strength.

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