Our poor poor thumbs. That digit that differentiates us as humans is taking the brunt of our obsession with screens. Do your thumbs hurt? How many times are you swiping with your thumb per day? Repetitive strain is real, and chances are your smartphones, screens and keyboards aren’t going anywhere soon. Fortunately, acupuncture is a very good treatment solution for thumb pain, as well as wrist and forearm pain, due to repetitive strain injuries.
How Does Acupuncture Help Thumb Pain?
Acupuncture is such a good treatment option for thumbs because of three major reasons:
- Acupuncture promotes blood flow
- Acupuncture tightens ligament laxity
- Acupuncture reduces inflammation
If you’ve been reading any of my case study blog posts, you will notice that this is a consistent theme.
The thumb, and joints of the thumb consist of a very small and tightly fitted area. Blood does not flow in large amounts to the area, and healing factors don’t get to the over-use injury. Also, when you over-use your thumb joints, the ligaments that keep them together stretch out. Now there is instability, and the structures become painful. Through continued use of an unstable joint, inflammation persists.
Janie the Massage Therapist: A Case Study of Acupuncture for Repetitive Strain and Thumb Pain
Now of course, phone and computer use aren’t the only reasons for overuse injuries to the thumb and wrist. My patient Janie is a massage therapist, who depends on the use of her hands for her livelihood. But she is also a small business owner, and runs her mobile massage business completely through her phone. The combination of doing deep massage and using her phone for scheduling, accounting, keeping track of mileage, emailing and texting with her clients and keeping treatment notes was starting to wear on her hands in general, but her right thumb specifically.
For the past three months her pain was getting progressively worse, and for the week before she came to see me she had to stop doing massage altogether, for fear of permanent injury. Her pain was concentrated at the base of her thumb, and it also felt weaker than the other side.
How do I Treat Thumb Pain with Acupuncture?
With some physical exam, we found:
- inflammation in the tendon sheath around her wrist (tenosynovitis)
- laxity in both the interphalangeal joints of her thumb
Her first visit we needled underneath the tendon sheath and hooked it up to electro-stimulation. We also put needles directly into the ligaments between each phalanx in her thumb.
After the first treatment, she reported a dramatic decrease in her thumb pain, and was able to continue working. We also changed the way she used her phone, using a hunt and peck method with her index finger vs. doing all the work with her thumb exclusively.
We continued weekly treatment for 6 treatments, and now she continues to see me every 4-6 weeks to prevent pain and inflammation.