Today, let’s talk about a condition that affects many people's hands a lot, which is arthritis in the thumb. Did you know that the thumb is actually one of the top five joints of the human body that can have arthritis?
It’s really not that surprising, because we are using our thumb to do almost everything. When we use any tools, picking up objects, holding something, and basically whenever we use our hands, we are using our thumbs.
If you dig deeper into that, you will know that whenever somebody is losing their thumb or having some sort of thumb injury, that can be considered as a much more severe type of disability compared to losing any other fingers.
With that said, the thumb is very important in terms of functional use of our hand to operate extremity. But thumb injuries can also be very debilitating and because of its frequent use, it’s also set up to have arthritis much more easily.
Today let’s talk about the top three tips to prevent thumb arthritis from happening.
1. Muscle Release.
The muscles in the web space of our palm— a lot of time we are holding tools, or gripping onto a lot of different things that might cause a very firm grip.
If we use that firm grip for a very long time, we develop a lot of muscle tightness, especially at the web space which is called the adductor pollicis. These are the muscles that pulls the thumb into the hand and that muscle tend to tighten just because of a lot of gripping.
To relieve the muscle tension:
a. Use a clothes pin;
b. Find your web space. When you palpate and you put your finger there, you will usually find a tender spot there;
c. Once you find that tender spot, get the clothes pin then clip it in. If you pin it too light or too far out, it’s only pinching at a scale wherein it doesn't feel very comfortable and it’s not very effective to relieve the muscle tension. So, clip it very deep and find the tender spot there;
d. Let it hold for about 1-2 minutes.
2. Dynamic Stretch.
Do some stretching exercises to relieve some of the muscle tension. This still includes the extensor and adductor pollicis of the thumb.
To relieve the muscle tension:
a. Simple hold a fist;
b. Make the thumb into your hand and wrap it around with your fingers;
c. Then tilt a little bit towards your pinky side. Just straighten your hand out, and you will feel a stretch at the top of the thumb.
d. Hold it for about five seconds and then relax it for about five seconds. Remember to make it very dynamic, we don’t want to have a very prolonged stretch, because most people— unless you are going through a surgery or a cast for a long time— they don't have a true muscle shortening.
The muscles are just stiff from overuse. In order to relieve that tension: If you want gliding, active motion, or a blood circulation instead of passive static, repetitive motion like this move down. And remember, you can also change the angle a little bit.
Like I said, there are multiple muscles passing from the forearm to the wrist going into the thumb that we need to change the angle in order to target the different parts of it. A very easy thing to do is to move your thumb a little, move your wrist a little bit further back there and then tilt.
Then, stretch again, you will feel more of a stretch towards the palm side to and do that repetitively. You can also tilt the other way, move the fist a little bit forward, and then tilt, so you will feel more of a stretch at the back part.
So, that targets the different parts of the tendons target, different muscles and target different parts of the fascia, the connective tissue.
You may can change that to different angles and do that repetitively. Ideally, I would suggest to do at least 10 reps of each of the different angles. That will be pretty much 30 reps for you to complete this exercise.
An exercise to strengthen some stabilizer muscles of the thumb:
a. Get a rubber band, a rubber band is very easy for you to use to carry out this exercise;
b. Then, wrap the rubber band into your fingers, just four fingers are put into the loop;
c. Then, move your thumb to your pinky side. By doing that, you’re activating the thenar eminence. To stabilize the thumb joints, we need this muscle to be stabilized.
d. Work on elevating the index finger. Move it away from the middle finger and that’s working on activating some of the intrinsic muscles, or the first dorsal interosseous muscle, which is also very important from stabilizer muscles.
e. Do that repetitively, it's an endurance-based exercise. So we're not doing that super heavy to a level of fatiguing. We just do a very lightweight with rubber band through that repetitively. And in order to get endurance improve, you need a lot of repetitions, 20-25 reps, but if it's tolerable, we can totally do that to 30 reps.
So that make sure when I'm doing this only the index finger is moving up nothing else is moving
a very isolated exercise to work on thumb stability very specific so this is the third tip which is the stabilization exercise for the thumb.
These are the top three tips to prevent thumb arthritis.
The first one is a release using the clothes and; the second one is a stretching exercise and remember that different angles for different muscles; And then the third one is a release using the rubber band to work on improving the endurance of the stabilizer muscles of the thumb.
Remember these exercises and these programs to take care of the thumb, they are very gentle, so you can totally do more. Ideally, do this first thing in the morning and last time in the evening.
You may also do this whenever you're going to get into some heavy work using your hands a lot like before going into your work every day.
Do these before and after your work, this is going to help you take care of your thumb better, and prevent you from developing arthritis off the phone. We don’t want that to happen, because eventually that might lead to surgery.
It's very important for us to take care of the joints regularly to prevent the joint from rolling out but give it time to recover better.
So these are the tips in terms of how to protect your how to prevent your thumb from having arthritis.
I'm Dr. Andy Tseng, Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist and a Pilates instructor as well at CORE. I along with our team of other Pilates instructors will be more than happy to help you.