Hand Surgery Gets a Thumbs-Up

November 30, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:

One winter morning a few years ago, Thomas Farley, 57, slipped on the stairs of his Edison home and repeatedly caught his right thumb on the handrail going down. Thomas’ thumb was sore, but the pain didn’t bother him much and eventually went away. Over time, though, he started having problems with his hand.

“It had gotten so weak, I went to grab a coffee mug and dropped it on the floor,” he recalls. “Then a week later, I did it again.”

Thomas made an appointment with his primary care physician, who suspected he was developing severe arthritis in his hand. He referred Thomas to Alexander Marcus, M.D., a hand surgeon affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center’s Hand Center, part of the Human Motion Institute.

Through a physical exam, X-rays and a review of Thomas’ medical history, Dr. Marcus confirmed that Thomas had osteoarthritis in the joint at the base of the thumb.

“Thumb arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and difficulty with activities of daily living that involve pinching and gripping, such as turning keys or opening jars,” Dr. Marcus explains. “While an injury to the thumb joint can cause thumb arthritis, usually patients already have some underlying arthritis that flares up after the event.”

Doctors consider surgery for thumb arthritis only after conservative treatments, such as cortisone injections into the thumb joint and a thumb brace, have failed, Dr. Marcus says. Both treatments provided only temporary relief for Thomas, so he underwent outpatient hand surgery this past January at Raritan Bay–Old Bridge.

Dr. Marcus removed one of the small bones in Thomas’ thumb joint, then stitched the joint capsule closed. The base of the thumb is stabilized by developing scar tissue. Following his operation, Thomas wore a cast on his hand for a month. After the cast was removed, he had hand therapy for about three months.

Successful hand surgery and rehabilitation enabled Thomas to regain normal hand functioning and return to work. As a paratransit operator for Hunterdon County, he drives passengers and loads and lifts their wheelchairs and scooters. At home, he enjoys time with his wife, Nika, and their two rescue cats, Pebbles and Tabitha.

“The staff at Raritan Bay were the most wonderful bunch of people I ever had the privilege of receiving care from,” Thomas says. “Dr. Marcus was up-front and explained everything to reassure me. That’s why I felt good about him.”

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