Andy’s story: Keeping his music alive after his thumb surgery

Andy is a founder and CEO of a global automotive consultancy, which requires running a number of large events, traveling for roadshows, conferences and networking. Outside work, he has a deep passion for music and plays guitar and drums almost every single day.

Andy started experiencing consistent pain at the joint between his thumbs and wrists in both hands. He believed his frequent travel for work was the cause of his pain, from pulling suitcases and straining his right wrist. He thought the pain would subside and disappear as some days were worse than others. Andy easily dealt with the symptoms by taking painkillers, but the pain in his right hand was gradually worsening and significantly affected his work, hobbies and everyday tasks at home.

After being diagnosed with arthritis by his doctor, Andy was referred to Mr Mark Phillips, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. With many years of experience in performing hand and wrist surgeries, he has a particular interest in performance-related conditions in musicians.


Base of thumb arthritis

From his consultation, Mr Phillips was able to identify the root of Andy’s pain straight away. X-rays confirmed that the pain from the thumb down through the wrists was caused by base of thumb arthritis. To give Andy some immediate relief, Mr Phillips gave a steroid injection into the joint at the bottom of the thumb and the wrist. He thought surgery would fix the cause of Andy’s base of thumb arthritis and recommended a trapeziectomy procedure.

“Base of thumb arthritis is a common occurrence for musicians who experience bone-on-bone pain. It is caused when the cartilage wears away, causing the bones to rub together. Many musicians, such as pianists, guitarists and drummers, or even anyone who regularly use their fingers and thumbs for work, may ignore the pain and just live with it – taking painkillers once in a while as needed. The awareness of base of thumb arthritis important. Thumb base osteoarthritis is a common condition. If healthcare professionals don’t know what's wrong, they may not know how to fix it,” says Mr Phillips.

It was expected that the steroid injection wouldn’t last beyond about 3-4 months, so Andy was booked in for trapeziectomy for his right hand, where trapezium bone at the base of the thumb is removed and the space is filled with a graft or implant made from either silicone or metal. “The surgery was quick, and I was in hospital for just a few hours. My hand was placed in a short cast for two weeks, which was replaced with a temporary splint as I recovered. Gradually, I was able to build strength from doing basic physiotherapy exercises with a sponge in my hand and an elastic band for five to ten minutes a day. This slowly increased my active range of motion, and my thumb was able to touch my small finger again,” the music enthusiast highlighted.

After 18 months, Andy decided to have his left thumb repaired with the same procedure in October 2022. “When I look back, it wasn't a life-or-death issue, but I didn’t realise how much the pain in my hand was affecting me. As I play guitar right-handed, the left hand twists around the neck of the guitar which was causing increasing discomfort – especially when I had to use all six strings. I also couldn’t do my usual routine on my own such as getting dressed for work and had to ask for assistance,” says Andy.

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Performing again

Two and a half months on, both Mr Phillips and Andy are already seeing great progress. Previously, the guitarist was experiencing some discomfort when moving his fingers across the guitar fretboard, but now Andy can easily do an hour to two hours of practice and can use both of his hands freely without any pain.

“It's so true that our hands are essential for so many everyday tasks. Using your hands is something you don't fully appreciate until you're in pain or you can't use one. I personally had my wife's help, but it was still difficult. Playing the guitar is now not an issue for me. If I were a professional musician, it would be unthinkable not to have that movement back” says Andy.

Mr Phillips highlighted: “Something as minor as base of thumb surgery can have such a big impact on their lives. After trying more simple treatments such as hand therapy and steroid injections, if that doesn’t provide support, then surgery can be very helpful. These conditions can be fixed and people can get back to doing what they want to do.”

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.