CATCHING HEALTH with Diane Atwood: Don’t neglect your thumbs

By Diane Atwood

A few weeks ago I woke up with a sore right thumb. Right at the base of it, in the joint.
Now, I know how important our thumbs are, but that morning I really found out. I couldn’t even pull the covers back without a jolt of pain. Try going to the bathroom when you can’t use your thumb. Getting dressed. Savoring that morning cup of coffee. Every single thing I tried to do seemed to involve my thumb.

I thought it must be arthritis. My mother often complained of arthritis in her thumbs as she got older. But I didn’t think you could suddenly wake up with searing arthritis pain. Then the lightbulb went off. I had spent nearly the entire day before helping my daughter get ready for the arrival of my baby granddaughter number two. We went through several boxes of baby clothes, all of which I washed, dried and folded. Five or six loads of laundry. Reaching in and out of the laundry basket, washer, and dryer countless times.
I think the repetitive pinching motion of grabbing clothes is what led to my pain.
I moaned and groaned for a while and took some ibuprofen, and then decided I should try some gentle thumb stretches. I didn’t like doing them at first, but slowly my thumb started to feel much better.
By the end of the day, I was fine and, thankfully, there was no more baby laundry to be done.
Here are some thumb range of motion exercises, courtesy of OA Centers for Orthopaedics, just in case you wake up with a sore thumb someday. For photos as well, visit my blog.
Better to prevent them in the first place. Stretch your hands often, try to avoid repeatedly pinching your fingers, space out those loads of laundry, get someone else to do it.
ACTIVE THUMB FLEXION: Start by trying to touch the tip of each finger with your thumb. Once you can touch the little finger, work your way down to the palm
PASSIVE THUMB FLEXION: Using your opposite hand, bend the thumb towards the palm.
Active radial abduction: move thumb out and back, away from the palm of the hand. Stretch it back as far as you can go.
PALMAR ABDUCTION: Start with hand on its side (thumb will be on top). Move thumb out away from the palm of the hand but still in line with the pointer (index) finger.
PASSIVE ABDUCTION: Put thumb of opposite hand into the palm and on the muscle part of your thumb. Slowly push down and back to stretch the thumb.

For many years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on WCSH6. Now she is a blogger and podcaster at Catching Health with Diane Atwood,