I'm planning to have surgery on my left thumb for arthritis at the base of the thumb (where the thumb and wrist meet). What can I expect for recovery time?
Post-operative recovery depends somewhat on a number of different things. For example, your overall physical health can affect how quickly you recover or whether you have complications. People who smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or circulation problems tend to have more problems after any surgical procedure.
The complexity of the surgical procedure can be a risk factor for complications. Sometimes the surgeon has to drill holes through the bone. That can increase the risk of bone fracture and infection.
In a recent study of 48 patients who had a similar surgery, twenty per cent (20%) had some type of problem either related to the anesthesia or to the hand itself. Most of these were single events (meaning only one patient was reported for each complication).
Complications included numbness, infection, persistent pain, and adhesions (scarring). Some of the problems could be treated with antibiotics. Others required an additional surgery.
The rehab program following surgery usually consists of gentle but active finger motion right away. The thumb, hand, wrist, and forearm are often placed in a plaster splint for a few days. Then the splint is removed and a short-arm cast (thumb included) is put on.
All of this is done to support and protect the healing surgical site. After six weeks, all protective devices are removed and gentle active motion and light activities (e.g., brushing teeth, combing hair, picking up objects that are easy-to-lift and hold) can begin.
The entire rehab process takes three to four months. By that time, you should be able to do all your normal activities without any problems.
Douglas M. Sammer, MD, and Peter C. Amadio, MD. Description and Outcomes of a New Technique for Thumb Basal Joint Arthroplasty. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. August 2010. Vol. 35-A. No. 7. Pp. 1198-1205.
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