Taking the Pain Away: Advancements in Orthopedic Surgical Techniques Help Thumb Arthritis

    Pain when buttoning a shirt, using a doorknob or twisting the cap of a bottle can all be signs of thumb arthritis.  For Mette Brown, pain experienced while quilting became a big concern as quilting is an important part of her life.

    “If I could do it all day long, every day, I would, but apparently life comes first,” she said.

    It’s the small stitches that’s hard on her hands. The pain at the base of the left thumb forced her to stop.

    “It gets to the point where you just protect it because whatever you do is going to hurt.”

    Mette’s scans revealed thumb arthritis. It happens when the cartilage breaks down in the basal joint, where the wrist connects with the thumb.

    “As that cartilage wears down, the body tries to adapt and fix the problem. And unfortunately, it can’t do so in a really good way,” said Daniel London, MD, hand surgeon at MU Health Care.

    London explained surgery techniques and recovery have greatly improved over the past decade alone. So London used the latest technique to fix Mette’s left hand. He removed a small wrist bone called the trapezium. Then a tendon and two sutures create a hammock under the thumb to keep it in the correct position.

    “It creates a little sling in essence, so that that bone doesn’t rub on any other bones while keeping its height,” he said.

    No cast is needed, and just days after surgery, Mette began working with a hand therapist. The goal was to regain full range of motion, which means touching the tip of the thumb to the pad of the pinky finger. London had predicted Mette would do it within 90 days.

    “And I remember thinking, ‘He is crazy, no matter how hard I work, I will not be able to do that.” And I was able to do that at about 75 days, and I was amazed.”

    Mette is now back to quilting for hours on end, piecing together her next project pain-free.