Trapeziectomy (for osteoarthritis) | The Edinburgh Clinic

Trapeziectomy (for osteoarthritis)

This page should answer all your questions about a trapeziectomy procedure. If you still have further areas you need information about please consult your doctor.

The trapezium explained

The trapezium is the name of the cube-shaped bone or joint (trapeziomatacarpal) that connects your thumb to your wrist (see figure 1).

Figure 1
Trapeziometacarpal joint
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Explaining osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is an on-going condition that wears the bone away. It starts by wearing away the protective covering over the cartilage and then attacks the bone itself. This ongoing deterioration is painful and often causes stiffness and weakness of the trapeziomatacarpal joint.

A trapeziectomy explained

This is a surgical procedure which relieves the pain and also improves the flexibility of the thumb.

Explaining the alternatives

A splint to keep your thumb in one position can relieve pain – although of course it means less movement. A steroid injection placed into the joint can also relieve pain. Having replacement surgery can also help; the trapezium would be replaced by an artificial one made from plastic and metal.

Another treatment for young and active people could be an arthrodesis, which in layman’s terms means keeping the thumb bones together with a screw. This is a permanent treatment.

The surgery explained

Following the appropriate anaesthetic procedure, the surgeon will make a small cut at the base of your thumb on the back of your hand to remove the joint. Using the tendon that runs across the joint, the surgeon can make a ligament to reconnect your wrist to your thumb.

The operation is usually completed in one hour to one and a half hours.

General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Wound infection
  • Scarring

Specific Complications

  • Failure to relieve pain and numbness
  • Restricted use of the thumb and hand with severe pain – a condition known as complex regional pain syndrome

Expected recovery timeline

  • No overnight stay required
  • For two weeks hand must be kept raised
  • Plaster or bandage comes off in four to six weeks
  • Gentle exercise for thumb and fingers
  • Gentle exercise for the elbow and shoulder to prevent stiffness
  • Doing these exercises regularly ensures a faster return to normal activities
  • Please check with your doctor or medical team before starting any exercise
  • Improvements in your range of movements will continue for as long as 12 months

Trapeziectomy in summary

A trapeziectomy is a surgical procedure which relieves pain and stiffness of the thumb and hand caused by osteoarthritis of the trapezium.



EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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