Your physician will ask you about your symptoms, any prior injury, pain patterns, or activities that aggravate the condition. One of the tests used during the examination involves holding the joint firmly while moving the thumb. If pain or a gritty feeling results, or if a grinding sound (crepitus) can be heard, the bones are rubbing directly against each other. The physical examination may show tenderness or swelling at the base of the thumb.
An X-ray may show deterioration of the joint as well as any bone spurs or calcium deposits that have developed.
Many people with arthritis at the base of the thumb also have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, so your physician may check for that as well.
In its early stages, arthritis at the base of the thumb will respond to nonsurgical treatment:
Because arthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease, the condition may worsen over time. The next phase in treatment involves a steroid solution injection into the joint. This will usually provide relief for several months. However, these injections cannot be repeated indefinitely.
When nonsurgical treatment is no longer effective, surgery is an option. The operation can be performed on an outpatient basis, and several different procedures can be used.
One option involves fusing the bones of the joint together. This, however, will limit movement.
Another option is to remove part of the joint and reconstruct it using either a tendon graft or an artificial substance.
You and your physician will discuss the options and select the one that is best for you.
For additional information about treatment, we have included this complete patient eduction sheet as a pdf to view, download and print: