Thumb arthritis care and prevention
UMRA’s well-attended May 2021 workshop featured noted University of Minnesota orthopedic surgeon and researcher Ann Van Heest, MD, a leading expert on hand arthritis. She began by describing the complex anatomy of the hand and the range of problems that people can experience with their hands, and then she focused on the thumb, which is frequently the source of hand pain.
Dr. Van Heest described the uniqueness of the opposable human thumb, which is one of things that defines us as homo sapiens. Unlike most joints in human and other animals, the thumb joint is not a simple hinge; it is essentially a universal joint. It allows movement in two planes at right angles and allows rotation of the moving part along its long axis. This unique construction allows humans to do things with our hands that our cousin chimpanzees and other animals can’t do, like sewing, playing a guitar, and performing surgery.
Being so complex, the thumb joint can develop problems. In particular, the joint at the base of the thumb—the carpometacarpal or CMC joint—is susceptible to arthritis. In fact, it is the second most common source of arthritis pain in the body.
Onset of CMC arthritis usually begins in mid 50s to mid 60s, and is more prevalent among women than men, with 25 percent of older women developing the disease to some degree.
Dr. Van Heest noted that there are many treatment options, including steroid injections; splints; physical, occupational, and hand therapy; and surgery. Just as importantly, there are ways to help prevent or minimize CMC arthritis. For example, there are exercises to release and strengthen the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint to help it function better.
Making the thumb puppet sing
She demonstrated some of the exercises that can help the CMC joint, including “making the thumb puppet sing,” putting a bag clip on the web between your thumb and forefinger, and using a rubber band to build strength to maintain the desirable “C” position when holding a pen or pencil. A hand therapist can demonstrate these and other exercises as part of a custom-tailored exercise program. Also, the University has a lab that can custom make splints and supports if needed.
Dr. Van Heest urged everyone who is experiencing thumb and hand pain to seek treatment; much can be done to help you keep playing your musical instrument, gardening, or pursuing other hand-intensive activities that you love.
—Ron Matross, Workshop Committee chair
Keeping your hands healthy and functional
Mon, May 3 2021, 11am
Ann Van Heest, MD
Professor and Vice Chair of Education
Department of Orthopedic Surgery
Event to be held via Zoom.
Ann Van Heest, MD, one of the U of M's top hand experts, will talk about what happens to the anatomy of our hands as we age and what we can do to keep our hands strong.
How are your hands holding up as you age? Are you able to do all the things you want with them, or are you feeling some pain, weakness, or limitation?
Whether you want to keep your hands functioning well, or want to improve their function, check out our May workshop. Our presenter will be one of the University’s top hand experts, Ann Van Heest, MD. She will talk to us about the complex anatomy of our hands and what happens to that anatomy as we age. In particular, she will focus on the crucial carpometacarpal (CMC) joint beneath our thumbs, and why it is susceptible to arthritis as we age. The workshop will give you practical ideas on how to keep your hands strong and deal with CMC and other pain.
Dr. Van Heest is a professor and vice chair of education in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, and the department's residency program director. In 2011, she received the Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award, the highest recognition for a residency program director. She specializes in hand and upper extremity surgery.
Her academic interests include neuromuscular disorders, including arthrogryposis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury, and congenital and pediatric upper extremity and hand disorders. Dr. Van Heest is also affiliated with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and Shriners Hospital for Children.
Note: This workshop will NOT be on our usual third Tuesday of the month. To accommodate Dr. Van Heest’s busy schedule, the workshop will be at 11 a.m. on Monday May 3. Please register and join us.
—Ron Matross, Workshop Committee chair
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