I treat a lot of individuals who are experiencing wrist, thumb and hand problems. A large majority of these individuals come in with pain at the base of the thumb. With this presentation, It can be quite painful to grip objects and the symptoms can often be aggravated by a repetitive task like cutting with scissors or even using a computer mouse. In my practice, I find that a major contributor to this type of dysfunction is overuse of a specific muscle in the palm of the hand that lies between the thumb and middle finger called the adductor policis muscle. This commonly overused muscle is especially vulnerable when patients are gripping or manipulating objects which require more power from their hand muscles. Thumb motion is a carefully co-ordinated dance between several muscles and imbalances such as the one mentioned above have consequences. Using one muscle more than the others puts asymmetrical pressure on the surfaces of the small joint that connects the thumb to the wrist (the 1st carpometacarpal joint). Over time, this joint wears down and becomes painful. It can become reddened and swollen. It is thought to be more common in women because the thumb joint does not fit together quite as well as mens’ and their hands are smaller in general.
Well-intentioned friends will often give sufferers ‘stress balls’ to squeeze to make their hands stronger. Unfortunately, the gripping compounds the problem and the thumb joint swells even more. Squeezing a stress ball overuses the muscle in the palm (the adductor policis muscle) that was the problem in the first place. Stretching the muscle and strengthening the other small muscles around the thumb are key to improving muscle balance. Believe it or not, the hand has good posture to consider too! Working with a knowledgeable physiotherapist to correct some hand posture habits and sometimes using a brace to support the area can be important strategies to control flare ups. But please do NOT use a stress ball!
Contact us today if you would like to book a consultation with one of physiotherapists and make those hurting hands happy again!
Written By: Laurie Bickerton, Physiotherapist