Therapy management of thumb carpometacarpal osteoarthritis: Exploring UK therapists’ perceptions of joint instability.
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Introduction Carpometacarpal joint osteoarthritis is a common and painful condition associated with ligament laxity, subluxation and joint instability. Therapy management includes several interventions targeting the symptoms associated with instability and subluxation. This study aimed to explore the perceptions of experienced therapists, about their understanding of joint instability in carpometacarpal joint osteoarthritis and its relationship with laxity, subluxation and strength, and the perceived effectiveness of exercise interventions. Methods A qualitative research design, consisting of individual semi-structured interviews was conducted with nine therapists. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using a thematic analysis. Results Three themes were identified: (a) relationships between instability and laxity – the terms laxity and instability were often used interchangeably. Instability was associated with laxity, subluxation and disease progression, and was perceived to be a problem that includes the whole thumb column; (b) clinical reasoning by stage of disease – conflicting opinions were expressed regarding instability being present in pre-arthritic lax joints, early disease or all stages of disease; (c) the role of exercise in management – there was disagreement as to whether instability could be modified by developing muscle strength, or whether treatment should be focussed on compensating for instability. Conclusion Different perceptions of instability were reflected in wide-ranging opinions regarding the need to manage instability, and regarding the potential for altering instability. The impact of instability on function, and the concept of instability were not easily identified. A clearer definition of instability would facilitate the development and assessment of interventions for instability.