You Have A Social Media Disease
There Is No App for Thumb Pain
Your thumb is made up of an intricate system of tendons that enable very precise movement. The joints of a thumb are fairly small and yet we are able to produce an amazing amount of force with this single digit. In this age of all things digital, the modern American thumb has been subjected to greater workloads. Problems with thumb pain, numbness, and limited function are becoming more common complaints in physical therapy. I have some suggestions on how to manage pain and limit the damage and embarrassment of excessive social media thumb exposures.
Thumb Tendon Troubles
Dr. De Quervain was the first to clinically described thumb tendonopathy, and we call thumb tedonosis De Quervain Syndrome. The test for De Quervain Syndrome was created by a clinician with an equally odd name and it is called the Finkelstein test. Place your thumb in the palm of your hand. Make a fist with the finger around the thumb. Hold the wrist in neutral and then deviate the wrist toward the pinkie finger. If you feel pain it is a positive Finkelstein test.
Resolution of thumb tendonopathy pain happens quickly when you give in to the symptoms of pain and modify your activities. Rest the thumb tendons by using your fingers instead of your thumb on that smart phone. Avoid fitness activities that put stress on the thumb. Lifting in front of the body with the palms facing inward is often the lift that new mothers perform and develop painful thumb tendons. Early on in the pain onset, icing is often helpful. In physical therapy, we are successful with soft tissue mobilization, ultrasound, and manual therapy. A gauntlet type thumb splint you wear at night is an unattractive but provides aviable position of rest for severely aggravated thumb tendons.
The Numb Thumb
Irritation of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel of the wrist will create thumb, second, and third finger numbness and pain. An injury of the recurrent median nerve in the front of the palm will produce numbness in the thumb and limited strength during thumb opposition–thumb to pinkie finger. Patients with neural irritation often develop numbness, weakness, and then pain. The pain often wakes them from sleep and disrupts hand function.
Once again, you will resolve a numb thumb with rest. Once neural irritation gets fired up, it takes longer to resolve than an aggravated tendon. Giving in to the numbness and resting the hands will produce better results if you start early. Two weeks of avoiding the aggravating hand activity produces good results. Night splints for the wrist and thumb are often helpful. A carpal tunnel release is a common surgical alternative that takes pressure off the median nerve.
Gumbie Thumb Beware
Every joint has a certain degree of stability and certain degree of mobility. Our spine, knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows must move enough to produce motion but not so much that they fall apart. The amount of movement in our joints is largely an inherited characteristic–you can blame Mom and Dad. The person at the extreme end of the scale (“double jointed”) needs to take certain precautions with their thumbs.
The Beighton Score is a popular screening technique for joint hypermobility. It has been around for thirty years and is used in research all around the world. The scoring is based on eight passive range of motion assessments and one active range of motion assessment. One point is assigned for each of the following.
A pinkie finger that can be passively bent backward more than 90 degrees.
A thumb that can be pulled down to the front of the forearm.
Elbows that passively hyperextend to 10 degrees.
Knees that passively hyperextend to 10 degrees.
The subject can place the palms on the floor during a straight leg, forward bend.
Researchers disagree on the score that should be a threshold for concern about systemic joint hypermobility. I have found that fitness clients and physical therapy patients that score a 5/9 or higher require modification of their training programs. It is not uncommon to encounter physical therapy patients that have a Beighton Score of 9/9. Hypermobile individuals need to take more precautions when they perform repetitive tasks such as texting on a smart phone.
Kimberly Salt wrote an excellent article on social media induced thumb pain in the May 19, 2018 issue of the New York Times. Take a minute and read, Me and My Numb Thumb: A Tale of Tech, Texts and Tendons.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Very Short Term Running Preparation
I was recently asked by a fitness client to post exercise recommendations that would prepare her for outdoor distance running. This person was two weeks away from being out on the road, running two or three miles a day. She is middle aged, has a prior history of lower back pain, and her goal was to lose fifteen pounds and “tone up”. Given such short notice, these are my recommendations.
Perform soft tissue work on a daily basis. Foam roll the legs and use a lacrosse ball on the plantar fascia. The vast majority of overuse injuries in runners happen in the lower legs and feet. Attempt to unwind the myofascial distress created by 600-700 foot impacts a mile.
Improve your reciprocal hip pattern–one hip goes back and the other goes forward. Most general fitness clients have glaring deficits on one side. Perform some split squats, posterior lunges, step ups, and or walking lunges. If you struggle with these activities, I would reconsider running as a fitness activity.
Wake up your gluteals. Every day, perform fifty or sixty bridges, hip lifts, or leg curls. You need super gluteal strength / endurance to run distances and avoid lower extremity injury. If your butt gets sore from fifty bridges, you need to do them more often.
Running is a skill and most recreational runners need some practice. Running hills will improve gait mechanics, enhance hip extension, and decrease deceleration forces. Find a fifty-yard hill. Run up the hill and walk back down. Perform five hill runs.
You are always better to run too little than to run too much. Start with very short runs– no more than half a mile. Increase your total weekly mileage by no more than five percent a week.
You can’t do this in two weeks, but this is my big recommendation to all future runners. Lose the extra weight before running. As a method of fat loss, distance running has a poor track record. It tends to elevate the hormones that make you hungry, and physiological adaptation to distance running happens fairly quickly. Extra adipose makes you far more likely to develop a running related injury. I know the guys and gals you see running miles and miles every day are lean. Please remember that lean runners are successful with running because they possess the optimal body mass to run long distances. They did not start heavy and become lean. Put a fifteen pound weight vest on that guy or gal and everything will change. Their gait will lose efficiency and become less graceful. The extra fifteen pounds of load creates the biomechanical overload that makes them much more likely to suffer an injury.
My final recommendation is that you not become disappointed if you develop pain. A runnersworld.com poll conducted in 2009 revealed that 66% of respondents reported a running related injury that year. The statistics indicate that one third of the participants at you local 10k fun run will require medical attention for a running related injury over the next year. Have the good sense to stop when the pain begins.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated. Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different. If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL. The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime. I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.
Many older fitness clients are able to train at intensity levels that are equal to their younger counterparts. What they are unable to do is fully recover between bouts of training. Insufficient recovery makes progress toward higher levels of fitness nearly impossible and creates an environment that invites injury. Activities that promote recovery between training sessions have great value for older training clients.
Quality sleep is essential for recovery. Unfortunately, many age-related changes can interfere with sleep. Menopause for women, prostate issues for men, arthritic joints, and acid reflux are just of few of the more common problems. If you have problems getting seven to eight hours of quality sleep, talk to your doctor about possible medical assistance to improve your sleep. Invest in better pillows and a quality mattress. If your schedule permits, take a nap during the day to boost your total sleep time.
Active Recovery is the term used by strength coaches and trainers for short and easy exercise sessions that speed up recovery. On your days out of the gym, take ten to fifteen minutes and work on these areas:
Resolve movement pattern restrictions
Develop a more efficient and pain-free squat, lunge, hip hinge, or toe touch pattern and it will reduce tissue overload during training sessions.
Eliminate postural flaws
Occupational responsibilities and daily activities place us in the positions that feed into poor postural habits. Nothing stalls progress more than posture restrictions. These deficits will only resolve with daily training.
Soft tissue work
Soft tissue work with a foam roller, massage stick, or any of the other myofacial tools can work wonders. Find a physical therapist or trainer who can teach you how to use these tools to assist in recovery.
Have a recovery day. Many older fitness clients are unaware of how much they are taxing their bodies until they end up with an overuse pain problem. If you are going to perform high level fitness activities such as distance running, resistance training, or an hour of yoga, you are going to need some days in between that involve solid sleep, minimal activity, and maybe an easy walk.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS