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Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis

Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis is a common condition seen in hand surgery practice. The typical patient is a middle-aged woman who describes the gradual onset of thumb basilar joint discomfort, pain with gripping or pinching, difficulty opening jars, and diminished strength.

Basilar joint arthritis at the thumb is related to a variety of factors, including age and use, genetics, and hormonal effects.

See Also: Wrist Arthritis

Related Anatomy

The anatomy of the thumb basilar joint is complex. This biconcave-convex saddle-shaped joint has minimal bony constraints, permitting a wide arc of mobility and facilitating prehension. The ligamentous structures about the thumb promote stability, and the muscular forces about the thumb confer large forces on the thumb in pinch and grasp.

There are 16 ligaments that stabilize the trapeziometacarpal joint, the important anterior oblique (beak) ligament is considered the primary stabilizer of the trapeziometacarpal joint. The superficial and deep anterior oblique ligament, the dorsoradial ligament, the posterior oblique ligament, the ulnar collateral ligament, the intermetacarpal ligament, and the dorsal intermetacarpal ligament stabilize the thumb carpometacarpal (CMC) joint; the other nine ligaments stabilize the trapezium.

The degree of anterior oblique ligament degeneration corresponded with the extent of arthritis in a cadaveric study. Laxity of the beak ligament may alter the contact pressures and congruity of the joint, leading to joint subluxation and arthritic changes.

See Also: Wrist Anatomy
trapeziometacarpal joint arthritis
trapeziometacarpal joint arthritis

Physical Examination

The history should include information regarding age, gender, and handedness. Attention should be paid to duration of symptoms, exacerbating and relieving factors, and the nature and location of discomfort. Occupations and avocations should be explored, particularly in relation to symptoms. The patient’s prior treatments and response to these should be explored.

Examination may elicit the shoulder sign, in which the CMC joint is subluxated and the metacarpus adducted. The CMC grind test is performed by axial loading and circumduction of the metacarpal on the trapezium. Concomitant or alternative diagnoses should be ruled out; patients may have carpal tunnel syndrome (estimated to coexist in 43% of cases), deQuervain’s tendonitis, or hypermobility of the CMC joint.

The status of the scaphotrapeziotrapeziod (STT) joint and arthritis in this joint should be assessed. Range of motion at the wrist and thumb should be documented, including thumb abduction and opposition (i.e., ability touch the base of the small finger) and metacarpophalangeal (MCP) motion.

The MCP joint must be examined in hyperextension, which exacerbates metacarpal adduction. If MCP hyperextension is not addressed during ligament reconstruction, the stresses on the reconstruction may lead to failure. If hyperextension is greater than 30 degrees, the MCP joint should be treated with fusion, capsulodesis, or sesmoidectomy. If hyperextension is less than 30 degrees, the surgeon can consider pinning the MCP joint with a Kirschner wire for 4 to 6 weeks.

See Also: Thumb CMC Grind Test
Thumb CMC Grind Test
Thumb CMC Grind Test


Radiographs that should be obtained include posteroanterior, lateral, and Bett’s views.

From plain film radiographs, the extent of disease may be staged according to the system described by Eaton. However, it is important to consider the patient’s radiographic stage and symptoms together. Radiographs often demonstrate severe trapeziometacarpal joint arthritis in a patient with only minimal symptoms; conversely, some patients have minimal changes on radiographs but are quite symptomatic.

Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis Treatment

Painful first CMC joint arthritis that interferes with activities and has failed nonoperative management is an indication for surgery. Contraindications include active infection.

Many patients respond to a nonoperative treatment:

  1. activity modification,
  2. thumb spica splinting,
  3. use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications,
  4. intraarticular corticosteroid injections.

These forms of Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis Treatment are often most helpful in the early stages of the Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis.

Eaton divided thumb CMC joint arthritis into stages, which are useful for deciding on treatment options.:

  1. The stage I joint is essentially radiographically normal but may have slight widening caused by synovitis or effusion. It may be treated by conservative means, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and immobilization, but some authorities advocate ligament reconstruction, arthroscopy, or metacarpal osteotomy for stage I disease.
  2. Stage II disease is characterized by further joint space narrowing, changes with osteophyte formation (< mm), and mild to moderate joint subluxation.
  3. Stage III disease is characterized by moderate joint subluxation and prominent osteophyte formation (>2 mm),
  4. Stage IV is pantrapezial arthritis.

Stages II through IV trapeziometacarpal osteoarthritis may be treated by arthroscopic or by open partial or complete trapeziectomy, with or without ligament reconstruction and interposition, fusion, or arthroplasty.

Patients with Eaton stage I, II, or III trapeziometacarpal joint arthritis may be candidates for arthroscopy to determine the true extent of joint changes. In the early stages, in which the articular cartilage is intact but synovitic changes or ligamentous laxity is present, the pathology may be addressed by débridement and capsular shrinkage of the ligaments.

Patients with more apparent changes, such as attenuation of the anterior oblique ligament and partial volar cartilage loss, may be candidates for extension osteotomy or arthroscopic débridement and interposition arthroplasty, whereas those with widespread cartilage loss may do best with arthroscopic débridement and interposition arthroplasty or conversion to an open procedure.

Trapeziometacarpal Osteoarthritis Treatment
Preoperative and postoperative radiographs show first carpometacarpal joint arthroscopic débridement and interposition arthroplasty.


  1. Cooney WP 3rd, Chao EY. Biomechanical analysis of static forces in the thumb during hand function. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1977 Jan;59(1):27-36. PMID: 833171.
  2. Bettinger PC, Linscheid RL, Berger RA , et al . An anatomic study of the stabilizing ligaments of the trapezium and trapeziometacarpal joint. J Hand Surg Am. 1999 ; 24 : 786 – 798 .
  3. Eaton RG, Littler JW . Ligament reconstruction for the painful thumb carpometacarpal joint . J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1973 ; 55 : 1655 – 1666 .
  4. Doerschuk SH, Hicks DG, Chinchilli VM, Pellegrini VD Jr . Histopathology of the palmar beak ligament in trapeziometacarpal osteoarthritis. J Hand Surg Am. 1999 ; 24 : 496 – 504 .
  5. Pellegrini VD Jr . Osteoarthritis of the trapeziometacarpal joint: the pathophysiology of articular cartilage degeneration. I. Anatomy and pathology of the aging joint . J Hand Surg Am. 1991 ; 16 : 967 – 974.
  6. Florack TM, Miller RJ, Pellegrini VD , et al . The prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in patients with basal joint arthritis of the thumb. J Hand Surg Am. 1992 ; 17 : 624 – 630 .
  7. Lourie GM . The role and implementation of metacarpophalangeal joint fusion and capsulodesis: indications and treatment alternatives. Hand Clin. 2001 ; 17 : 255 – 260 .
  8. Eaton RG, Glickel SZ, Littler JW . Tendon interposition arthroplasty for degenerative arthritis of the trapeziometacarpal joint of the thumb. J Hand Surg Am. 1985 ; 10 : 645 – 654 .
  9. Badia A . Trapeziometacarpal arthroscopy: a classifi cation and treatment algorithm. Hand Clin. 2006 ; 22 : 153 – 163 .
  10. Badia A, Khanchandani P . Treatment of early basal joint arthritis using a combined arthroscopic débridement and metacarpal osteotomy . Tech Hand Up Extrem Surg. 2007 ; 11 : 168 – 173
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