Arthritis in the thumb joint, whether from wear-and-tear osteoarthritis or inflammatory types like rheumatoid, can significantly impact your golf game.
The thumb plays a crucial role in the golf grip, and arthritis pain and stiffness in this small joint makes it difficult to hold and swing a club properly.
However, with certain adaptations and therapies, you can modify your grip and swing to accommodate thumb arthritis and continue enjoying the sport.
Understanding Thumb Arthritis
The thumb joint at the base of the thumb, known as the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint, is frequently affected by osteoarthritis as we age.
Rheumatoid arthritis targeting various hand joints also commonly affects the thumb CMC.
Symptoms of Thumb Arthritis
Telltale symptoms of thumb arthritis include:
- Aching, soreness, and stiffness at the base of the thumb
- Swelling and tenderness in the CMC joint
- Pain that worsens with activities involving pinching or grasping
- Loss of strength and range of motion in the thumb
- Clickling, catching, or grinding sensations when moving the thumb
These symptoms result from the smooth cartilage surface of the CMC joint slowly wearing away over time, causing bone-on-bone friction.
Impact on Golf Grip and Swing
The diminished thumb mobility and grip strength from arthritis causes difficulties properly holding and controlling a golf club.
The condition worsens during the golf swing, as pressure on the thumb joint intensifies when gripping tightly and when the club twists on impact.
Adapting Your Golf Grip
Modifying your golf grip can significantly reduce the strain on an arthritic thumb joint.
Avoid the Overlapping Grip
The traditional overlapping grip places the most torque and pressure on the thumb base as your hand wraps over to hold the club.
Opting for an alternative grip minimizes awkward thumb positions.
Try the Baseball or Interlocking Grip
Both the baseball grip (all ten fingers on the handle) and interlocking grip avoid excessive thumb strain by eliminating the overlap.
Experiment to find which feels most comfortable.
Use a Wider Grip
Wrapping your hands around a standard golf grip requires uncomfortable thumb twisting. Trying clubs with a wider diameter grip allows a more neutral thumb position.
Limit Grip Pressure
Gripping tightly forces the thumb into the locked handle position that strains the joint. Use the minimum grip pressure needed for club control.
Tape the Thumb
Taping or splinting the thumb joint can restrict painful motions and irritating pressure points when holding a club.
Adjusting Your Golf Swing
Beyond grip changes, tailoring your overall swing style can protect an arthritic thumb.
Restrict the Backswing
Limiting the shoulder turn on your backswing also limits radial deviation of the thumb, which hurts the CMC joint. Keeping swings compact avoids overstretching.
Minimize Hand Action
Let the big muscles of your shoulders, core, and legs power the swing rather than excessive hand and wrist action. This reduces forces through the thumb.
Use Lighter Clubs
Heavy, stiff steel shafts require tight, rigid gripping that strains the thumbs. Lighter, more flexible graphite shafts allow a gentler handhold.
Play Less Often
Leave more days of rest between golf sessions to give inflamed thumb joints time to recover before repeated use.
Treatment Options for Thumb Arthritis
While grip and swing changes help accommodate thumb arthritis, treatment can also ease symptoms.
Oral Anti-Inflammatory Medication
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen reduces inflammation in the arthritic joint. Use cautiously under medical supervision.
Thumb Braces and Supports
Braces, splints, or tape immobilize and protect the thumb CMC joint during activity. They limit painful motion while supporting the area.
Special hand exercises prescribed by an occupational therapist help maintain thumb strength and mobility. Massage and modalities like heat or ice also provide arthritis relief.
Corticosteroid injections into the CMC joint temporarily reduce inflammation and pain. Their effects wear off over months.
For severe thumb arthritis, procedures like joint fusion or replacement may be required if conservative treatment fails.
Additional Tips for Thumb Arthritis
Implementing good joint protection strategies in your golf and daily life can help reduce wear-and-tear on arthritic thumb joints:
- Warm up your hands thoroughly before golfing
- Use your entire hand to grip items, not just the thumb/fingers
- Avoid carrying heavy loads in your hands, like multiple golf clubs
- Take frequent breaks when performing thumb-intensive tasks
- Consider wearing a thumb splint at night to rest the joint
- Apply ice packs after golfing or other hand use to control swelling
While thumb arthritis can be frustrating, approaches like reducing golf grip pressure, adjusting swing mechanics, taping, medication, and activity modification enable you to work around this issue and keep teeing off.
With the right adaptations and care, arthritis does not have to halt an enthusiastic golfer.