by Sheila Yakobina, MA, OTR/L, CHT and Stephanie Yakobina, MA, OTR/L, CHT
Our multi-tasking lifestyles can take a toll on our thumbs.
We take our thumbs for granted until we sustain an injury and can’t use them to perform our normal activities, like buttoning our pants or lifting a cup of coffee. Then we realize just how important our thumbs are to our quality of life. According to research, the thumb accounts for approximately 40 – 50% of hand function. Thumb injuries can result in significant functional loss of the hand in daily activities such as turning a key, peeling vegetables, and getting dressed. Common symptoms of thumb injuries and arthritis include weakness and pain when pinching.
You may be surprised to find out that arthritis of the thumb affects approximately one third of women between the ages of 40 to 75. In the past, cortisone shots and surgery were often considered the only way to relieve thumb pain. However, there is hope…and it’s much less invasive. In a study conducted by Pat McKee, Associate Professor in the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of Toronto, researchers found that custom-molded splints fabricated by hand therapists decreased patients’ pain, increased their pinch strength, and improved their overall hand function. The study compared two splints and found that the smaller one which stabilized the base of the thumb and left the wrist free was highly preferred. The study also found that splints did not have to be bulky to do a good job.
The smaller the splint, the happier the customer!
Patients should consider splints as a first-line treatment option prior to surgery. Hand therapists are extensively trained in the fabrication and fitting of custom splints to decrease pain from problems such as arthritis. More and more people are using splints to successfully delay or avoid surgical procedures for thumb arthritis. Our certified hand therapists can help you identify thumb injuries and arthritis and are experts at fabricating customized thumb splints.
Certified hand therapists are trained to treat thumb conditions by providing customized exercises to decrease pain, while increasing strength, and function. Other treatment techniques include paraffin, massage, activity modification, the “place & hold” thumb posture, and isometric strengthening. Our hand therapists are equally qualified to guide rehabilitation and maximize recovery and function if symptoms ultimately require surgery.
If you have any questions, please contact our hand therapy clinic at Proliance Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation in Issaquah at 425-313-3055. We can help you identify problems and make recommendations to avoid bad habits and postures before they do permanent damage to your hands, wrists, and arms.