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Arthritis at the base of the thumb can be painful, impairing your ability to work, perform household tasks, hobbies and sports. We can help you overcome your pain by explaining factors that contribute to your symptoms and creating a treatment plan that addresses current symptoms and reduces the likelihood of flare-ups in the future.

What causes arthritis at the base of the thumb

Arthritis at the base of the thumb has traditionally been considered to result from degeneration of the articular cartilage at the base of the thumb. More recently, it has been proposed that any part of the joint, including the ligaments, nerves, muscles, cartilage, subchondral bone and synovium, could be involved in the development of OA (Hagert, Mobargha 2012). Further, failure of proprioception and neuromuscular control of the joint, may contribute to development of OA.


Pain, tenderness and swelling can be present at the base of the thumb. Symptoms can be aggravated by activities such as writing, opening jars, carrying plates, turning keys and activities that require strong pinch. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

How is arthritis at the base of the thumb treated?

Education will be provided regarding activity modification and self-management strategies. These approaches can be helpful in avoiding and managing regular flareups.  Arthritis Australia offers useful online advice at

Specific exercises to address proprioception and neuromuscular control will be beneficial for lasting symptom relief and the provision of custom-made splints can allow for immediate pain relief.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your treatment may include:


Various styles of splints are available, and your therapist will help you determine which is most suitable, depending on your extent of your pain and arthritis. Your splint will need regular review and adjustment, to accommodate changes in your condition.

Self Management Strategies

Use heat packs (or cold if your prefer), massage, gentle self-traction and nerve glides.

Proprioceptive and neuromuscular exercises

Exercises aim to promote conscious joint control, to promote smooth, balanced and pain free thumb motion. Exercises should not be painful. If they are, perform them in a smaller range of motion or do fewer repetitions.

Your therapist will conduct a comprehensive assessment to understand the pain, strength and function of your thumb and wrist, as well as analysing your aggravating activities.  They will create a unique treatment plan to address and help relieve your current symptoms. The goal is always to both give you relief from any pain and discomfort, create optimal conditions for the tissues to recover, and then teach you how to reduce the likelihood of your pain recurring.