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HANDI

A-Z interventions and conditions

Splint for base of thumb osteoarthritis

A-Z interventions and conditions
        1. Splint for base of thumb osteoarthritis

First published: 16 September 2021

The RACGP gratefully acknowledge the following contributor:

  • Zoe Michaleff, Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, Bond University

Related GP HANDI entry Splints for the reduction of pain from hand osteoarthritis


 

Your doctor has recommended a splint to help reduce pain from thumb osteoarthritis.

Key points

  • The main treatment for thumb osteoarthritis includes exercises and joint health education aimed at helping you to manage your condition.
  • A hand splint may help if you have tried other treatments but are still trying to reduce your pain or improve the use of your hand.

How can a splint help reduce pain?

  • Having a pain-free thumb is important. You use your thumb for many everyday activities, such as pinching (e.g. squeezing a peg), grasping (e.g. holding a book or knife) and twisting (e.g. turning a key).
  • The main treatment for thumb osteoarthritis is a high-quality support program that includes exercise and joint protection education. However, you can try using a hand splint if you are still looking for ways to reduce your pain or improve the use of your hand.
  • A hand splint can reduce thumb pain by supporting the base of your thumb. This can reduce movement and the amount of force put on the joint.

How to use a hand splint

  • There are two types of hand splints:
    • A ‘working’ splint can support your hands when doing work. It is usually made from a soft, flexible rubber or neoprene material (wetsuit material) (Figure 1).
    • A ‘resting’ splint has non-flexible parts to prevent some of your hand joints from moving (immobile). This splint is usually specially made from rigid plastic (Figure 2).
  • One type of splint has not proven to be better than the other. Many people find neoprene splints more comfortable, available, and cheaper so you may want to try this splint first. Neoprene splints can be bought from pharmacies, sports stores, mobility equipment centres or online.
  • Make sure the splint fits well and supports your painful joints. The splint should help your thumb to form a “C” with your fingers (Figure 2).
  • You can wear the hand splint at night or all day or during certain activities to support your joints. When and how long you wear the splint for each day will depend on when you feel pain (e.g. during activity, at rest, or both) and your daily activities. Some studies show sleeping in a rigid splint may benefit you over a long period of time.

What to look out for

  • Use the hand splint only when needed, for example, during a flare-up of your pain. Do not wear a hand splint all the time as this may lead to muscles becoming weaker (and joints feeling stiffer if using a rigid splint).
  • If you cannot find a splint that fits well and your pain is not reducing, you may want to be referred to a hand therapist. A hand therapist can check if you need a splint and advise which splint to get. They can also teach you to change the way you do things to reduce stress on your hand joints. They can also show you how to strengthen your hand muscles to better support your joints and reduce the need for ongoing splint use.
  • Ask about the costs to consult a hand therapist or to buy splints.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or want to discuss other treatment options.
  • The Australian Hand Therapy Association lists hand therapists by state (see ‘Information for patients’ and click on ‘Directory - Find an Accredited Hand Therapist’)
  • Occupational Therapy Australia lists hand therapists in its ‘Find an OT’ section, under ‘Area of practice’ select ‘Hand Therapy/Lymphedema’
  • Speak with a nurse on Musculoskeletal Australia’s free help line 1800 263 265 (weekdays 9 am – 5 pm)
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