Basal Joint Osteoarthritis of the Thumb: A Prospective Trial of Steroid Injection and Splinting

Charles S. Day, Richard Gelberman, Alpesh A. Patel, Molly T. Vogt, Konstantinos Ditsios, Martin I. Boyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Purpose: There have been few prospective studies evaluating the results of nonsurgical treatment of a well-defined patient cohort with symptomatic basal joint osteoarthritis of the thumb. This prospective study uses a validated outcome instrument to examine the effectiveness of a single steroid injection and 3 weeks of splinting in patients with osteoarthritis in Eaton stages 1 to 4 with a minimum of 18 months of follow-up evaluation. Methods: Thirty consecutive patients (30 thumbs) were studied prospectively to evaluate the efficacy of a single injection of corticosteroid into the trapeziometacarpal joint, followed by immobilization in a thumb spica splint for 3 weeks. All patients answered an outcome-based questionnaire (Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand) and were examined before injection, 6 weeks after injection, and at final follow-up examination (minimum, 18 months). Eaton radiographic stage was recorded by 3 independent observers. Results: At 6 weeks 13 patients had improvement in pain intensity and 17 patients reported no symptomatic improvement. Twelve of those with relief at 6 weeks continued to have relief at long term follow-up evaluation (mean, 25 months). Of patients with long-term relief average grip strength of the affected thumb was 95% of contralateral side, whereas those without relief had grip strength values that were 60% of contralateral side. For those patients without relief at 6 weeks there was no improvement seen at later follow-up evaluation. Five patients with Eaton stage 1 disease had an average of 23 months of relief with nonsurgical treatment. In stage 2 and stage 3 disease 7 thumbs improved at 6 weeks after injection and 6 thumbs had long-term relief. In stage 4 disease, 6 thumbs had neither short-term nor long-term relief with the injection. Disease side, handedness, and smoking did not affect outcomes. At final follow-up evaluation 12 thumbs had had surgical treatment. Conclusions: Steroid injection with splinting for the treatment of basal joint arthritis of the thumb provided reliable long-term relief in thumbs with Eaton stage 1 disease but provided long-term relief in only 7 of 17 thumbs with Eaton stage 2 and stage 3 basal joint arthritis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-251
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Carpometacarpal joint arthritis
  • Splinting
  • Steroid injection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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