BackgroundOsteoarthritis (OA) in the thumb carpometacarpal joint (CMCJ) is a prevalent disease which may lead to structural damage, severe pain and functional limitations. Evidence-based treatment recommendations state that all patients with hand OA should be offered non-pharmacological treatment. Surgery should be considered only when other treatment has proven insufficient in relieving pain. The purpose of this study was to investigate prior treatment and characteristics of patients referred to specialist health care surgical consultation due to CMCJ OA. The study includes exploring differences in pain and function between referred and non-referred hand, between men and women, and between patients with and without OA affection of other finger joints than CMCJ.MethodsPatients in this cross-sectional study reported prior non-pharmacological treatment for CMCJ OA. Patient demographics, disease and functional variables were assessed based on hand radiographs, patient-reported and observer-based outcome measures. Differences in pain and function between referred and non-referred hand, men and women, and between patients with and without additional affection of finger joints other than CMCJ, were analysed using Paired-samples T-tests, Wilcoxon Signed Rank, or Chi-Square tests.ResultsOne hundred and eighty patients were included. The mean age was 63 years and 79% were women. Only 21% reported having received non-pharmacological treatment before referral to surgical consultation. The results show a statistically significant worse function for referred hands, women and involvement of additional interphalangeal joints. Most patients reported no pain or mild pain in their referred hand.ConclusionsThe results of this study show a non-pharmacological treatment gap in OA care. Most patients report no pain or mild pain, and that they had not received non-pharmacological treatment prior to being referred to CMCJ OA surgical consultation. The results furthermore show that CMCJ OA negatively affects all aspects of function. Strategies need to be developed to improve OA care, including educating general practitioners in evidence-based treatment recommendations and in the assessment of hand pain, and encourage the routine referral of patients with symptomatic hand OA to occupational therapy before considering surgery.