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Re: Thumb surgery
Jul 19, 2016
Hi teteri66, sorry to hear you are experiencing problems, too.

I began developing arthritis years ago with what I thought was a temporary reaction to Cipro. It didn't stop when the course of medication finished, but seemed to respond well to glucosamine. In time it was mild and only flared up here and there seasonally. Because it didn't bother me all the time I became lax about taking the glucosamine.

About three years ago it became a more constant issue. At that time I was 51. I am an amateur cellist and teach part time as well. This is NOT the cause of the arthritis as my non-musician family members are also affected. But the arthritis has impacted me in that area to the point where I had to give up performing and practice other than what I did while teaching, and I was at the point of also giving up teaching if I did not have the surgery. As sad as I would be to give up that part of my life, the decision for surgery was based on more than that.

Other things which caused pain: getting dressed, washing my hair, cooking, gardening, house cleaning, typing (I don't know why using my index finger made my thumb hurt!), holding a book, crafting (I found that as I did less with music I wanted to do more crafting), moving my thumbs "wrong", and sometimes of course they would just ache while doing nothing at all. And of course I was getting weaker and weaker. As well as weak joints, using my hands less meant using my arms less too.

Pain meds mostly didn't help much (though they did at first), and seemed to be causing ringing in my ears. I went to a hand physiotherapist, and he made thermoplastic splints which allowed me to use my hands with less pain/more strength, and he said would protect my joints. He had me wearing them for anything that stressed the joints, but not all the time. Initially they seemed quite helpful, but in time I was getting some very sharp and sudden pain, even in my right hand which was not otherwise as severe as the left.

The physiotherapist suggested corticosteroid shots, and if that didn't help, then surgery. I also began taking Joint Complete, a formulation of glucosamine, chondroitin, and msm. It seemed to help my right hand to the degree I held off any shots in that hand, but not the left. I had X-rays, and, surprising to me, they only showed "a little narrowing". Actually, only the surgeon later said that. The radiologist said, "nothing significant."

I was quite optimistic after the first shot as I had relief from my pain for close to six months. It did not relieve the sudden sharp pain, which the doctor surmised was something catching on the bone spurs he found while doing the injection using ultrasound. But with pain relief I mostly stopped wearing the splints. I think wearing them caused something to weaken or loosen and become prone to catching on the Spurs. Sadly, the second injection only gave relief half as long, and the third did not give any at all.

I had, in the meantime, also tried several dietary changes, but all to no avail. Because of music and crafting, using rubs wasn't practical for me, though on days off sometimes they helped. The most helpful was one that only acts by confusing the nerves to feel heat rather than pain. But it was not a smell my family or I wanted to live with all the time! Anyway, it didn't give me any strength, only helped with the aching.

The surgeon, looking at my X-rays with only some narrowing of the joints, wanted me to really think about the surgery as there are no guarantees and it may fail in time. I read online it usually lasts 15-20 years. So, I thought, I could retire now, give up all my hobbies and sit around waiting to have the surgery when I'm older in order for it to last a lifetime, or I could have it done now, and hopefully be able to work and live a more productive life for 15 or 20 years before I have to give things up and act old. And who knows, maybe there will be more advances by then to help us. I've been really tired of not being able to do anything without pain, though I feel like a bit of a wimp as I know there are people who experience much worse chronic pain out there.

The surgeon did concede that everyone experiences pain differently, and my family doctor also explained that some with worse X-ray results have less pain, and some with less severe arthritis on the X-ray have worse pain. Made me wonder why I had X-rays! Not only that, but by the time of my surgery, the X-rays were a year and a half old. I'm curious as to what the surgeon encountered and whether it was much more advanced than the X-rays showed. She has a long wait list as a rule, though, so I guess it's not unusual for her to work from old X-rays.

Well, I'm sure that's a much more detailed response than you expected, but maybe it will be useful to you or someone out there needling to make a decision regarding what path to take.

In some older threads here I've read many encouraging accounts and noted that most who have the surgery, even if they question the decision while in recovery, are happy enough in the long run to go on to have the second hand done.

Best wishes!

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