High five! Researchers restore hand function for arthritis sufferers

Mar 11, 2021
Pain relief is on hand for those living with osteoarthritis of the thumb. Source: Getty.

Sydney researchers may have found a solution to restoring hand function for those living with osteoarthritis of the thumb.

Thumb-base osteoarthritis occurs in the joint at the base of the thumb, and it’s particularly common in post-menopausal women, in fact it affects up to a third of women over the age of 70. Arthritis in that area can have large consequences on hand movement and affect people’s ability to do everyday tasks. Up until now there’s been no cure for the debilitating condition, which is why researchers set out to find a solution.

A randomised clinical trial led by Sydney researchers found a combined approach of already available options could be a promising lead in helping those with thumb-base osteoarthritis regain hand function. Some of these options included education, a splint to support the thumb, hand exercises, and a pain-relief gel.

For the study, 204 participants were divided into two groups, those who undertook the treatment and those who did not. The treatment group received a neoprene splint that supported the base of the thumb and wrist, a topical gel and information about hand exercises, which the participants performed three times a week.

After six weeks, there was increased hand function for people who undertook the treatments and exercises compared to the control group. And after 12 weeks participants also reported a better quality of life and reduction in pain. The findings were published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Many older adults are affected by thumb-base osteoarthritis and feel there is nothing that can be done for it,” senior author David Hunter, from The University of Sydney, said. “This trial demonstrates clinically beneficial effects on hand function with readily available interventions.”

Meanwhile, study lead Dr Leticia Deveza from the Institute of Bone and Joint Research at The University of Sydney said the results were promising.

“Previous studies on combined treatments in thumb base osteoarthritis have provided conflicting results,” he said. “To our knowledge, ours is the first study to investigate a combination of non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments in thumb base osteoarthritis — and importantly, we’ve found a solution that could be of clinical benefit.”

Julia Lipski, who’s been suffering from thumb-base osteoarthritis for some time now, was one of the participants who volunteered in the study. She said since she’s taken up the suggested treatment options the strength and grip in her left hand improved dramatically.

“Overall the outcome has been excellent, beyond my realistic expectations, with minimal discomfort along the way,” she said.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in Australia, with around 2.2 million people currently living with this painful condition. Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterised by the breakdown of the cartilage that overlies the ends of bones in joints. This results in the bones rubbing together, causing pain, swelling and loss of motion.

While there’s currently no cure for the condition, many people with osteoarthritis manage their pain with pain relief products. Other ways to manage osteoarthritis include undertaking regular low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, rowing, tai chi, yoga, pilates, swimming and water aerobics.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

What are your thoughts on this study? Do you suffer from thumb-base osteoarthritis?

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