What is Basal Joint Arthritis?

Basal joint arthritis is the development of potentially debilitating, arthritic symptoms that are confined to the thumb joint. Centered within the joint that joins the thumb and wrist, basal joint arthritis can trigger pronounced inflammation and pain that can impair the functionality of one’s thumb, making it difficult to complete simple tasks. Treatment for basal joint arthritis can be multi-faceted in approach, depending on one’s symptom severity, and is usually centered on symptom management. Aside from the administration of anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications, some arthritic presentations can necessitate the use of supportive tools, such as splints, and in some cases, surgery.

There is no known, single cause for the development basal joint arthritis, but factors such as impaired muscle function, genetics, and an over-exertion of the joint may contribute to symptom development. Arthritic pain develops as a result of cartilage deterioration, which often presents with osteoarthritis and jeopardizes bone functionality and promotes joint damage. When the basal joint deteriorates and inflammation develops, the joint's range of motion and thumb functionality become compromised.

There are a variety of diagnostic tools that may be used to confirm a diagnosis of basal joint arthritis. Once diagnostic examinations of the affected joint are performed, imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be ordered to further assess the condition of the joint. The administration of imaging tests are also valuable in that additional conditions, such as bone spurs, may be more closely evaluated.

Basal joint arthritis can present with a variety of signs and symptoms. The most obvious initial presentation of thumb arthritis is discomfort that originates at the digit's base. Some individuals may experience noticeable swelling and decreased thumb function and range of motion. As is common with any arthritic presentation, individuals may develop stiffness and tenderness at the thumb's base. Symptom progression, if left untreated, can eventually promote a loss of thumb function that severely compromises one’s ability to complete everyday tasks.

There is no cure for basal joint arthritis, so treatment generally centers on symptom management. Individuals with mild to moderate symptoms may be instructed to wear a brace or splint to decrease the stress placed on the affected joint. Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics are often recommended as well to reduce inflammation and discomfort. Those whose symptoms are not alleviated with an OTC analgesic may be given corticosteroid injections for temporary relief.

Severe presentations of basal joint arthritis can necessitate arthroscopic surgery to assess one’s condition. Arthroscopy and osteotomy are common treatment options utilized to restore stability and functionality to the basal joint. The application of arthroplasty involves either a partial or complete joint replacement to restore proper functionality. Osteotomy is generally performed as a corrective measure to alleviate arthritic deformity and restore functionality and strength. Though these procedures may be performed on an outpatient basis, both carry risks that should be discussed with a qualified healthcare provider.


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