Do you ever find yourself holding or rubbing your thumbs because they are sore or achy, and wonder why? Chances are you might be experiencing pain due to osteoarthritis. Often referred to as "the wear and tear disease," osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of joints. Certain genetic traits can make a person more likely to develop osteoarthritis, as well as traumatic injuries and repetitive overuse.
Osteoarthritis at the base of the thumb is referred to as carpometacarpal arthritis, because of its location in the body. It is more common in women than men and can begin at any age. Think about everything you use your hands for on a daily basis, and the amount of stress these daily activities place on the joints of your hands, especially the thumbs. Brushing your teeth, opening bottles or jars, pulling opening ziplock or chip bags, clipping your nails, writing, texting, knitting, turning a key.
These are just a few examples of activities that people perform on a regular basis that can contribute to the wear and tear of the base of the thumb joint. This wear and tear refers to the wearing of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. As this cartilage wears away, the joint becomes bone on bone, resulting in inflammation, stiffness, swelling and pain.
Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are ways people can protect their joints to slow the process, when caught early.
Joint protection is one way - learning to change activities that place stress on the joints, especially with pinching activities.
Splinting is another option to help decrease joint pain and inflammation. Splints can be prefabricated or custom fabricated. The purpose of splinting is to allow the joint to rest and to give the joint support during daily activities.
Both of these services, education in joint protection through activity modification and splinting, can be provided by a certified hand therapist. A CHT can also help with stretching and strengthening to create a more stable and flexible joint. If the osteoarthritis is too far advanced for any of these options, then surgery would be the final option.
Shelby Moore, OTR, CHT, is a licensed occupational therapist as well as a board-certified hand therapist at ATI Physical Therapy in Rehoboth Beach. For more information, call 302-226-2230.