Osteoarthritis (OA) is a "wear and tear" joint disease that degrades the cartilage that forms a cushion between the bones in the joint. It is relatively common for OA to affect the thumb joint at the base, causing pain and reduced mobility. The onset of OA in all joints increases with age, mostly striking younger people when an injury has made the joint vulnerable to degenerative changes.


When OA strikes the thumb, it is usually at the base near the wrist (basal joint), causing some or all of these symptoms:

  • Pain and weakness with grasping, pinching or gripping
  • An aching sensation after prolonged use
  • Swelling
  • Limited joint mobility
  • A visible bump over the joint

OA has a strong genetic component. If your parents or grandparents had OA, your chances are higher of developing the disease, though only a minority of all people who live into their 80's or 90's are spared some OA symptoms.

If you experience isolated OA in the thumb joint but not elsewhere, it is most likely due to an injury or overuse. The inflamed joint swells, affecting surrounding tissue and causing discomfort. If bone spurs (bony projections) or broken off bone fragments develop or the cartilage thins to allow bone on bone friction, you will want treatment to relieve pain and restore joint movement.

If treated in the early stages, OA of the basal joint can be highly beneficial.

  • Icing the joint several times a day
  • Medications: aspirin and NSAIDS to reduce inflammation
  • A supportive splint to keep the joint immobile during an inflammatory episode

If your joint is chronically inflamed with OA, however, these measures will prove inadequate over the long-term. Fortunately, several procedures can be performed to offer a long-term alleviation of symptoms:

  • Arthroscopic surgery to clean the joint and replace lost cartilage with a synthetic cushion
  • Reconstruction of the joint using a tendon graft or synthetic material
  • Fusion of the bones of the joint

The appropriate surgery depends on the degree of joint degeneration and the location of the damaged areas. Our surgeons at HSST are able to offer the minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery in a majority of thumb OA cases, but enjoy a high success rate with all three surgeries.