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A Royal Pain in the Thumb


By Ann Dahl, OTR, CWC

Thumb pain can be caused by a variety of conditions affecting the joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles of the hand.  Osteoarthritis of the thumb is one of the more common conditions to cause significant pain and loss of strength in the hand.  It often results from a combination of factors including family history, repetitive motions with applied force, awkward thumb postures from sports, work or recreational activities, previous fractures, trauma or dislocations to the thumb.  The thumb accounts for 50% of our hand function so when it is painful or weak it gets our attention! 

Osteoarthritis usually occurs when there is a loss of joint space between two bones at the base of the thumb.  Due to the high degree of mobility at this joint it is prone to wear and tear from activities that we perform every day. This results in loss of the cartilage or cushion between the joint. The ligaments that surround this joint can also become stretched out and begin to no longer provide the stability you need when applying force. The symptoms of thumb arthritis of the base of the thumb joint are pain with pinching, gripping and general thumb use. People often start to notice subtle pain in their thumb that gradually increases as early as their 40’s and 50’s.


How can an Occupational Therapist help with arthritis at the base of the thumb? On your initial visit, a comprehensive assessment will be completed including full strength, range of motion, joint integrity including a profile on how you need to use you hand and thumb on a daily basis at home, work, and with recreational activities.  From that information, we will build an education program and treatment program that will address how to continue to use your hand safely, reduce pain, return full strength and select appropriate supportive orthotics or taping that can greatly reduce pain and improve your function! 


Don’t wait to see an Occupational Therapist that specializes in treating hand conditions!  Your thumbs are too important to your overall daily function to wait.  With early self-care and a preventative strategy, you will decrease pain and keep your thumb in less pain and even better PAIN FREE!

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