Learn More about Basal Joint Arthritis Symptoms and How this Condition is Diagnosed

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Also referred to as thumb arthritis, this condition occurs when the joint located at the base of the thumb and joint at the wrist, also known as the carpometacarpal joint, develops osteoarthritis. Being able to recognize basal joint arthritis symptoms may help patients to seek medical help faster, which can lead to a more timely diagnosis.


Pain is usually the first symptom, as well as the most common. Pain occurs when the patient grasps, grips, or pinches an object between his forefinger and thumb. Pain can also occur when forced is applied, such as when opening a jar or pulling a zipper. Eventually, pain may even occur when the patient is not using their thumb. Other possible symptoms may include:

  • Stiffness, tenderness, and swelling at the base of the thumb
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Pain at the base of the patient’s thumb
  • Decreased strength when grasping or pinching objects
  • Bony, enlarged, or out-of-joint appearance of the carpometacarpal joint

Risk Factors

The exact cause of this type of arthritis is not clear, however, there are certain factors that may increase a patient’s risk. These may include:

  • Being female
  • Certain hereditary conditions, such as malformed joints and joint ligament laxity
  • Certain diseases that alter normal function and structure of cartilage, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Being 40 years of age or older
  • Experiencing basal joint injuries, such as sprains and fractures
  • Doing certain jobs and activities that place a lot of stress on this joint


The patient’s doctor may utilize a variety of diagnostic techniques to diagnose this type of arthritis. A physical exam is typically the first thing the doctor will do. During this exam, he or she will look for basal joint arthritis symptoms and ask the patient about the ones they may be experiencing. The doctor may hold this joint while moving the patient’s thumb against the wrist bone, with pressure. If this causes pain, a gritty feeling, or a grinding sound, it indicates that the bones are rubbing against one another and the cartilage has worn down.

Imaging techniques can reveal bone spurs, joint space loss, and worn-down cartilage, all of which indicate this type of arthritis. The following imaging techniques may be performed:

  • Bone scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • X-rays
  • Computerized tomography

The doctor will often begin with ordering traditional x-rays because they are the easiest, fastest, and least expensive. This will give the doctor a good picture of what the joint and bones look like. Magnetic resonance imaging can help to show clear images of the joint and soft tissues.


Hospital for Special Surgery. (2009). Basal Joint Arthritis: How Therapy Can Help. Retrieved on September 14, 2010 from the Hospital for Special Surgery: https://www.hss.edu/conditions_basal-joint-arthritis-therapy.asp

MayoClinic.org. (2010). Thumb Arthritis. Retrieved on September 14, 2010 from MayoClinic.org: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thumb-arthritis/DS00703