Surgery for thumb arthritis

August 26, 2010 3:07:54 PM PDT
Arthritis of the thumb usually occurs at the joint found at the base of the thumb, where the thumb meets the wrist.

This joint, called the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint, is important when trying to grip or pinch. Thumb arthritis is more common in women than men, and increases in frequency over the age of 40 years.

Imagine what life would be like if you couldn't use your thumbs because of severe and painful arthritis. Simple tasks like turning the key in your car, holding a pencil, or using a knife and fork would be very difficult. And cooking a meal? Forget it. One woman hadn't cooked in months, but thanks to a reconstructive surgery at Mayo Clinic, she's back to baking her family's favorites.

Before Sheri Peacock had surgery on her thumb, peeling apples was nearly impossible. "This joint here in the thumb. Any grasping or pinching motion. I could not hold a utensil," she said.

The pain from osteoarthritis kept Sheri out of the kitchen, which her kids didn't appreciate all that much.

"I know it was hard on her, but it was hard for us too. We had to do dishes more and vacuum," said her child.

Dr. Stephen Trigg performed Sheri's surgery. He says the cartilage in her base thumb joint was destroyed. The pain was from bone rubbing on bone. To repair the joint he performed what's called a ligament reconstruction, or tendon suspension arthroplasty. First, Dr. Trigg removed the damaged part of the thumb joint. Then, he removed part of the wrist flexor tendon and interposed it between the bone surfaces, constructing a new joint for the thumb.

"No pain. I have complete range of motion of my hand," said Peacock.

It took about three months for Sheri to fully recover after surgery. But now she's back in the kitchen baking goodies for her family.

Dr. Trigg says this operation will relieve pain and give back the use of the thumb for most patients. Sometimes people won't regain full range of motion like Sheri did, but they will see a major improvement. He says this issue is fairly common, especially in women.

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