Recovery and healing typically take at least 4 weeks in a cast (except when bathing). The thumb and hand will feel numb and sore at times, gradually improving as healing progresses. Physical therapy or hand and thumb exercises may be prescribed when the cast is removed, continuing for 1 or 2 more months. Patients return to normal activities gradually.

Basal joint surgery relieves the pain and functional deficits caused by basal joint arthritis. If you’ve decided to undergo basal joint arthritis surgery, you’re well on your way to a more comfortable and active lifestyle.

You should research basal joint surgery recovery prior to your operation so that you have appropriate expectations for your treatment. Most patients return to everyday activities about three months after their surgery, but the exact timeline depends on a range of factors.

Surgery Overview

Before the Operation

Before your basal joint surgery, you will have a consultation with your surgeon during which you will discuss your medical history, your condition and your goals for treatment. Once the operation is scheduled, your surgeon will give you a list of instructions to follow that will help your surgery and recovery go smoothly. The list commonly includes to avoid alcohol, smoking and certain medications, and to inform friends, family members and your employer about your operation in advance.

During the Operation

The goal of basal joint surgery is to restore stability and function to the joint. Some procedures include joint fusion, osteotomy (where the joint is repositioned), trapeziectomy (where the joint is removed), or joint replacement. Overall, all procedures include the surgeon making an incision at the base of the thumb to access the joint. Once the joint is accessed the damaged bone and tissue is removed and a ligament graft or another type of spacer is attached to relieve pressure within the joint.

This operation is called total joint reconstruction and is the most common surgical procedure performed for basal joint arthritis. The operation generally lasts no longer than an hour and most patients are allowed to go home the same day. Talk with your surgeon to learn more about how he or she will approach your particular treatment.

After the Operation

Right after the operation, your thumb will be fitted with pads and a splint to protect and stabilize it and to promote healing. Swelling and pain are expected, but you will be given medication to help you feel comfortable. Once you are awake and sufficiently independent, you will return home and start your basal joint surgery recovery.

Recovery Overview

There are many factors that affect your basal joint surgery recovery timeline, such as the details of your condition, your surgeon’s method, your overall health and your adherence to postoperative guidelines. Most basal joint surgery recoveries have a similar timeline.


Basal joint surgery recovery generally consists of joint immobilization in the beginning and physical therapy toward the end.

During the first few days after your operation, you should elevate your hand as much as possible – including while sleeping – to minimize swelling and soreness. In this early period, your hand doctor may also recommend that you occasionally move your hand and fingers to facilitate circulation and reduce stiffness. You will be prescribed medication to help ease your discomfort.

At your first post-operative consultation, which usually occurs about a week or two after surgery, you will have the dressings removed from your hand. Then, about four to six weeks after surgery, your protective splint or cast will be removed, and you will begin physical therapy.

Under the guidance of an experienced hand therapist, you will start with light range-of-motion exercises to restore mobility to your thumb joint. Then, after another two to four weeks, you will proceed on to strengthening exercises.

Most patients return to everyday activities about three months after their basal joint surgery. A full return to all activities, however, may take longer. Your particular recovery timeline will depend on the details of your case. Talk with your surgeon to obtain a more accurate estimate of your recovery.

Dos and Don’ts

Basal joint surgery recovery may seem like it is out of your hands, but there is a lot you can do to affect the course of your return to activity. Here are some of the most common recommendations:

  • Do rest, drink plenty of water and eat healthy food. Your hand will need time and energy to heal, so be patient and gentle with it.
  • Do return to activity with caution. Adhere to your physical therapist’s recommendations, and consult with him or her before taking your activity a step higher. It’s important to not push yourself too hard.
  • Don’t swim if you’re not ready. Swimming can be risky if done too early. Do check with your surgeon before submerging your hand in water.
  • Don’t scratch your hand before your dressings are removed, as inserting an object under your cast, splint or bandage increases your risk of infection. Instead, use a fan or take an oral antihistamine to relieve the itch.
  • Above all, do follow the advice given to you by your surgeon and physical therapist, and ask questions if you are ever in doubt.

Basal joint surgery recovery is a process that takes time, effort and patience. By doing research and making the right preparations for your operation, you can improve your chances of a fast and smooth return to activity.

Schedule a consultation with a qualified professional today to learn more about basal joint surgery recovery.

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Dr. Yueh

About Dr. Yueh

Dr. Janet H. Yueh specializes in hand surgery including Trigger Finger, Basal Joint Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel and Tendonitis. Dr. Yueh did her undergraduate work at Harvard University in Cambridge where she graduated magna cum laude. She continued her education at Harvard Medical School where she earned her M.D.