Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

I've been told I have arthritis in the joint at the base of my thumb. Surgery has been suggested. What happens if I don't have the operation?

Answer:

Thumb pain from arthritis may not be dangerous but it can be crippling. It's not likely that the arthritis will spread to the rest of your hand, wrist, arm, or body.

Your quality of life may be the biggest issue. Pain, loss of motion, and weakness of the joint decreases your pinch strength. This may become a real problem for you since as humans, we all use our ability to pinch and grip in so many daily activities.

For some people with this type of thumb pain, it goes away after a few years. Some doctors say the arthritis and irritation in this joint "burn out."

There's probably a small window of opportunity during which surgery can give the best result. After too many years, the thumb weakness and the loss of motion of the thumb may not be turned around or changed even with the operation.

The main reason to do surgery is for pain relief. Preventing weakness and deformity are important goals, too. You may have a mild problem that gets worse from time to time. If you haven't already, you can ignore it and see if it goes away or treat it with antiinflammatories, rest, and/or a brace.

If the problem is severe and keeps you from doing things with your hand, surgery may be your best option.
Charles Cassidy, MD, et al. Basal Joint Arthroplasty and Carpal Tunnel Release Through a Single Incision: An In Vitro Study. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. November 2004. Vol. 29A. No. 6. Pp. 1085-1088.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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