Just when I thought I’d covered every possible area of joint wear and tear, I learn that orthopedic surgeons are seeing more and more patients, especially women, with debilitating arthritis of the thumb.
“It’s a real epidemic,” said hand surgeon Dr. Terry Light, chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation of Loyola University Medical Center.
Personally, I think this epidemic stems from all the texting we do, but is there any point casting blame for this problem?
Lori Giacone of Indian Head Park, IL, said that when she tried to do simple tasks such as pumping gas or turning a car key, she would feel a shooting pain “that almost took my breath away.”
Light performed surgery to relieve the pain, first on her right hand, and, five years later, on her left. Now, she’s pain free.
Arthritis of the thumb is a real epidemic, says hand surgeon Dr. Terry Light of Loyola University Medical Center.
The first line of treatment for less severe cases includes:
- anti-inflammatory creams
- custom-made splints that restrict movement
- hand therapy and exercises
- cortisone injections to diminish inflammation. But repeated injections can accelerate cartilage destruction, so the injections must be spaced out.
The thumb is critical to everything we do. If it’s not in working order, it’s painful to do many routine functions, such as writing, turning door knobs, using scissors, unscrewing jar tops, gardening and so much more.
Arthritis develops when ligaments connecting the thumb to the wrist stretch out. Because the joint no longer fits snugly, the smooth cartilage lining the surface of the joint wears away, leading to inflammation and pain. As arthritis progresses, the hand becomes less useful and the pain becomes constant.
Surgery is the final option. The surgeon removes part or all of the trapezium wrist bone in the part of the wrist that meets the thumb. This reduces the amount of surface for the thumb to rub against. “The goal is to relieve the pain,” Light said.
Giacone said that before surgery, her hand was almost useless because she could not move her thumb without excruciating pain. Now, each thumb has about 90 percent of the function that it had prior to being disabled by arthritis.