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Base Of Thumb (Carpo-Metacarpal) Arthritis

“Working with a knowledgeable hand therapist can make the difference between success and failure in complex hand surgical cases. The therapist extends the continuum of our care, as well as functioning as coach and trainer for our patients.”

Marybeth Ezaki, MD, Past President, American Society for Surgery of the Hand

In Phoenix Rehab, our senior hand therapists are experienced licensed and dedicated therapists (physiotherapists and/or occupational therapists) who specialized ONLY in the rehabilitation, treatment and management of painful fingers, hands, wrists, forearm & elbow conditions, because of interest, passion and expertise.

Osteoarthritis typically happens when there is a loss of joint space between two bones, and one of the most common joints in the hand to develop osteoarthritis is at the base of the thumb.

Due to the normal mobility of this joint (very mobile), unfortunately it predisposes it to increased risks of wear and tear, which results in loss of the cartilage or cushion between the joint.

Arthritis at the base of the thumb is also known as CMC arthritis or basal joint arthritis.

What causes arthritis at the base of the thumb?

The cause of arthritis at the base of the thumb is thought to be the result of a combination of factors including

  • family history (ie genetics)
  • repetitive pinching (which covers a lot of occupations such as manual labor, cooking, paper work etc) or
  • twisting of the thumb
  • and general overuse

Thumb arthritis can also occur when there is a history of

Thumb arthritis is seen most often in females over the age of 50.

What are the symptoms of thumb arthritis?

The symptoms of basal joint arthritis are pain with

  • pinching
  • gripping
  • general thumb use

Using a key, turning a door knob or opening a jar can be painful with this type of arthritis.

Thumb pain may also occur at night or when resting. Patients with arthritis at the base of the thumb may also notice swelling at the area of pain.

What is the treatment for arthritis at the base of the thumb?

Treatment for basal joint arthritis can be non-operative or operative.

The initial conservative treatment is rest and modification of daily activities. If the symptoms are mild, the patient's doctor may prescribe

  • an anti-inflammatory medicine
  • a referral to our senior hand therapist
  • and/or suggest a cortisone injection to help decrease the pain

If the symptoms persist and begin to limit hand function, the physician may then recommend the patient to consider corrective surgery.

What can a hand therapist do for me?

Hand and thumb splint for basal joint arthritis

Initially, our senior hand therapist can provide patient education including

  • use of adaptive equipment
  • activity modification
  • and special exercises to help reduce pain

We can also provide a custom-fabricated brace or orthosis that will allow the thumb joint to rest and will provide support while performing daily activities. Hand therapy following surgery improves range of motion, and teaches the patient how to regain the function of the hand.

Patients may also receive the following hand therapy treatment modalities: