Difficulty Opening Jars? Understanding Basal Joint Arthritis

Expert Opinion

Do you struggle with opening jars or bottles? Is your grip or pinch strength diminishing? Are you experiencing aches at the base of your thumb? These symptoms are often indicative of basal joint arthritis, a common condition affecting the hand and wrist, particularly at the base of the thumb.

What is Basal Joint Arthritis?

Basal joint arthritis, also known as thumb arthritis, occurs when the cartilage in the joint at the base of the thumb wears down. This degeneration leads to aching or sharp pain, especially during activities that involve thumb use, such as opening jars, turning door handles, gardening, crocheting, and golfing.

Managing Symptoms

There are several strategies to manage the symptoms of basal joint arthritis:

  1. Anti-Inflammatory Medications:
  • Oral Medications: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation. It’s advisable to take these with food or milk to avoid stomach irritation. Always consult with a healthcare provider to ensure these medications are safe for you, especially if you have other medical conditions or are taking other medications.
  • Topical Treatments: Topical creams and gels containing anti-inflammatory agents can be applied directly to the affected area, offering relief with fewer systemic side effects.
  1. Splinting:
  • Using a thumb spica splint can provide support and reduce strain on the joint during activities. These splints are widely available at pharmacies and online retailers.
  1. Heat Therapy:
  • Moist heat can soothe aching joints. Paraffin wax treatments, available at many pharmacies, can also provide relief.
  1. Assistive Devices:
  • Tools like jar openers can help perform tasks that have become challenging due to reduced grip strength.

When to Seek Further Treatment

If conservative treatments do not alleviate your symptoms, further medical interventions may be necessary:

  • Steroid Injections: These can be administered directly into the joint to reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgical options are available to address the underlying issue and restore function.

Maintaining Your Lifestyle

While rest can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, it will not restore worn cartilage. However, there are ways to manage the condition and continue enjoying your hobbies. Consulting with a hand specialist can provide personalized strategies to minimize the impact of arthritis on your daily life.


Basal joint arthritis is a common condition that can significantly impact hand function and quality of life. By employing a combination of medication, splinting, heat therapy, and assistive devices, many individuals can manage their symptoms effectively. For persistent or severe cases, medical interventions like steroid injections or surgery may be necessary. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help tailor a treatment plan that allows you to maintain an active and fulfilling lifestyle.

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