If you notice increasing pain with activities as simple as opening a jar or turning a key, you may be experiencing the effects of thumb arthritis, also known as basal joint arthritis. This condition is common in postmenopausal women, with nearly 25 percent of women eventually developing pain and other symptoms due to wear and tear on the joint at the base of the thumb, but it can also develop in males.
The anatomy of the thumb basal joint depends upon two bones—the trapezium and the thumb metacarpal—along with several ligaments to maintain stability. These bones and ligaments are placed under tremendous stress on a daily basis. For example, if we pinch 10 pounds at the fingertip, the basal joint is placed under 120 pounds of pressure. The repetitive force causes the ligaments to become thin, which leads to abnormal wear and, eventually, arthritis.
Treatment depends on the severity of the disease. Early on, the disease typically responds to splinting and simple injections. However, in more severe cases, conservative treatments may not be effective, making surgery the best option for pain relief without limiting function.