Our thumbs are a powerful asset, but can set us up for pain and disability of arthritis due to overuse. Learn how to spot signs of wear and tear and how to protect your thumb over time.

Thumbs down to arthritis

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What separates humans from the apes is our ability to use our thumbs to hold and pinch a wide variety of shapes and sizes. 

The thumb is made up of three joints which work together to allow us to perform a multitude of tasks. The basilar or carpometacarpal joint has the greatest freedom of movement. 

While this movement is necessary for our daily tasks, it also sets us up for the pain and disability of arthritis due to overuse. Many of us use our hands and in particular our thumbs as tools. As we age, this wear and tear soon leads to the pain associated with arthritis. One way to prevent or alleviate the pain associated with arthritis of the thumb is practicing joint protection principles. Joint protection principles follow planning, preparation, frequent rest breaks and using the larger joints of the arm to perform the activity. This protects the smaller joints of the thumb.

Wearing a splint is another way to protect the joint. The splint provides support to the joint decreasing the stress on the joint from activities such as pinching small objects or holding wider objects

If arthritis of the joint has progressed and is not responding to practicing joint protection and splinting, your doctor can refer you to a certified hand therapist for specific treatment for your thumb. Treatments will include a variety of modalities for pain control and exercises to strengthen your thumb and hand.

Your doctor has other treatment options such as medication, injection and surgery.


About The Author

Lynn Anderson has 38 years of experience as a physical therapist, and is also a certified hand therapist. She specializes in orthopedic upper extremity (arm) rehabilitation, caring for patients with disorders affecting the hand and upper extremity.