picture of chrisie one of raj bhatia's thumb replacement patients showing her right hand with small scar tissue at the base of the thumb replacement

Thumb CMC joint replacement surgery

Chrisie, 57, from Bristol was experiencing pain in her thumb which was affecting her ability to do day-to-day tasks. She also struggled with activities such as yoga. She consulted Mr Bhatia, who diagnosed carpometacarpal joint osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition that causes pain, stiffness and weakness in the hand. Treatment options were discussed and the decision was to have thumb replacement surgery.

Having had a total hip replacement at just 51, Chrisie knew about the benefits that joint replacement could bring—pain relief from arthritis, improved movement and the ability to return to work and enjoy daily activities. With a role in learning and development within the automotive industry, and a keen participant in gym classes, spinning and yoga, Chrisie has a demanding lifestyle, like many of us. So when she started getting pain around the thumb joint of her right hand, she didn’t want that to hold her back, and she quickly sought the professional opinion of Bristol consultant hand surgeon, Mr Raj Bhatia.

I researched surgeons, and wanted to see Raj because he looks after Bristol Rugby Club, Gloucestershire Cricket Club and of course the mighty Bristol Rovers! Even more importantly, Raj specialises in conditions of the hand and wrist, so I knew even before I met him, that he was the surgeon for me.
self portrait picture of chrisie one of raj bhatia's thumb replacement patients

During the consultation, Mr Bhatia and Chrisie discussed the option of trapeziectomy, where the painful part at the base of the thumb joint is partially or totally removed. This will eventually lead to pain relief and some return of function, but it takes a long time and is not always practical for people who want to get back to full, active work and social life.

An advocate of thumb replacement surgery, also known as carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthroplasty, Mr Bhatia told Chrisie that she was an ideal patient for such a procedure, which has the benefit of offering a quick return to activities with the pain-free, complete movement of the thumb joint.

Chrisie jumped at the chance to have a mini-hip replacement put into her thumb, and on the 21st February, she underwent the quick procedure at the Spire Bristol Hospital.

Having previously compensated for her right-hand pain by performing tasks like opening jars or picking up keys with her left hand, Chrisie was delighted that, after the operation, she was able to use her right hand again, with no pain and a great range of movement.

I wasn’t able to put any pressure on my right thumb before having a thumb replacement. If I tried to do the ‘downward dog’ position in a yoga class, the pressure I put on the hand would send a sudden shooting pain into my wrist. I couldn’t even cup my right hand over the lid of a jar before the joint replacement operation. Now the strength has returned and I can open a big jar of something like pickled beetroot without having to ask my husband!

Before she had her thumb replacement, because typing was difficult and painful, her company installed voice-recognition software on her computer so she didn’t have to use the keyboard with her painful thumb. “It took a while to understand my west-country accent, but it soon learnt how I speak and actually ended up making fewer mistakes than when I typed!” Chrisie took two weeks off work following the procedure, and then returned to her job, where she can now type without any pain—although she still admits to using the voice-typing feature occasionally.

Chrisie’s new thumb has given her confidence and comfort in her hand again. She laughed as she recalled “I ‘go off’ when I walk through the airport metal detector, and now I have to tell the security guard that it could either be my hip or my thumb!”

It’s a thumbs up for CMC replacement and for Mr Bhatia!