Hands Down: Outlasting Arthritis

FRESNO, Calif.

About two out of three postmenopausal women will suffer from arthritis in their thumbs, making everyday tasks painful. Now, a unique procedure allowed one woman to keep doing what she loves.

Nancy McRay was just three when she played her first note.

"My mother just put music in front of me and sat me in front of the piano," McRay told Ivanhoe.

Since then, piano's been her life.

"There was just a music reading gene that got passed to me," McRay said.

But a few years ago, McRay's passion turned to pain. Arthritis in her thumb made practice impossible.

McRay found a doctor well-versed in both pain and piano. Stanford University School of Medicine surgeon Amy Ladd, M.D., also plays.

"I understand the demands of an octave span and playing precision work," Dr. Ladd told Ivanhoe.

The cartilage between McRay's thumb joint and bone was thinning. Experts say women are 10-times more likely to get this type of arthritis than men.

"The majority of postmenopausal women who are Caucasian or Asian will likely get this arthritis," Dr. Ladd said.

Surgery is an option when meds and therapy don't work. Often, doctors cut, fuse or remove bones in the thumb. Dr. Ladd took a tendon from McRay's forearm and put it between the trapezium bone and CMC joint in her thumb.

"Basically, creating some sort of natural pillow for that joint to rest upon," Dr. Ladd said.

The relief put McRay right back behind the piano.

"It's much, much, much better," McRay said.

Experts don't know why postmenopausal women are more at-risk for thumb arthritis. Men and younger women can also get it, but it's much less common. Dr. Ladd says the next step is to develop implants that can be surgically placed in the thumb.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com.

Hand and Upper Extremity Clinic
450 Broadway St. Pavilion A, 2nd Fl. Dept A26
Redwood City, CA 94063

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