The basal joint, or carpometacarpal joint, connects the thumb to the base of the hand and plays a crucial role in gripping and pinching. When basal joint arthritis occurs, the joint weakens and causes the bones to rub against each other, which results in pain.

If you’re dealing with basal joint arthritis, you know firsthand the discomfort and functional impediments it can cause. Many people experiencing basal joint arthritis are prescribed exercises that are intended to ease symptoms and improve range of motion. However, these exercises don’t always work. If you’ve tried basal joint arthritis exercises and haven’t seen any results be aware that you do have other options. Some of these other options to help you find relief from your basal joint arthritis include rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, splinting, corticosteroid injections and surgery.

Why Might Basal Joint Arthritis Exercises Not Work?

It’s helpful to understand that basal joint arthritis is a degenerative condition. This means that the mechanical issue underlying the symptoms — bone rubbing against bone — will continue to worsen and will not improve on its own.

Basal joint arthritis exercises can help soothe discomfort and improve function, but they do not resolve the underlying issue, the degeneration of the bone. If patients find that basal joint arthritis exercises keep their symptoms manageable, they are encouraged to continue them. For those who don’t see good results from exercises, however, there are other treatments available.

Additional Treatment Options

When exercises for your basal joint arthritis do not relieve your pain, there are many other available treatments options. Some of the most common alternatives include the following:

Rest

Basal joint arthritis is often caused by overuse of the basal joint, so simply resting the joint may relieve symptoms. In many cases, rest is only an effective treatment in the short term because alone it will not address the underlying issue.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Inflammation is known to play a role in arthritis symptoms, so doctors commonly prescribe drugs that work to reduce inflammation. The most popular type of anti-inflammatory drugs is nonsteroidal (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.

For many people with basal joint arthritis, NSAIDs will keep symptoms at bay. The main drawback of NSAIDs is that long-term use may have harmful health side effects. For this reason, doctors usually prescribe them only for short-term use.

Splinting

Splinting is another alternative to basal joint arthritis exercises. The goal of using a splint is to provide support for the basal joint so that you can perform everyday tasks more comfortably. Splints are wrapped around the basal joint and come in various forms. Some are soft and designed for movement, while others are rigid and designed for support and rest. If your hand doctor suggests a splint, he or she will work with you to determine which type is best for your situation.

Corticosteroid Injections

Corticosteroid injections are another way to counter inflammation in basal joint arthritis. Corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatory compounds that are injected into an arthritic joint to quickly reduce pain, swelling and redness. It is important to note that while symptom relief may last for a few months, the results are only temporary and arthritis will continue to progress.

Surgery

If basal joint arthritis exercises don’t work for you, one final treatment alternative to consider is surgery. The goal of basal joint arthritis surgery is to fix the mechanical issues that cause your pain and functional deficits so that you can go back to comfortably using your hands for everyday activities.

There are different operations available that will correct your basal joint arthritis. Some patients undergo a thumb osteotomy to take pressure off of the joint, and some opt for thumb fusion to provide stability to the joint. Still, others are advised to have the joint replaced entirely. Choosing the right operation for you is dependent on the details of your condition.

Which Option Is Best?

There are many treatment options available beyond basal joint arthritis exercises, and it can be difficult to decide which option is best for you. Fortunately, resources are available to help make the process less complicated. You can use reliable sources on the internet to evaluate treatments. You can also talk to friends and family members to see if anyone has experience with any of the treatments you are considering.

The best way to decide on a treatment is to discuss your condition with your doctor. By considering the details of your basal joint arthritis, your medical history, your lifestyle and your goals for treatment, you can work together with your hand doctor to form a personalized treatment plan.

Basal joint arthritis exercises can sometimes be effective, but many patients find that they simply do not bring relief, especially long term. If you have tried basal joint arthritis exercises and you are not satisfied, you should explore the range of additional treatment options.

Schedule a consultation with a qualified hand expert at our Bergen County practice so that you can make an informed decision about your basal joint arthritis treatment.

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About Dr. Yueh

Dr. Janet H. Yueh specializes in hand surgery including Trigger Finger, Basal Joint Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel and Tendonitis. Dr. Yueh did her undergraduate work at Harvard University in Cambridge where she graduated magna cum laude. She continued her education at Harvard Medical School where she earned her M.D.