HealthSmart Q & A-3

Dear HealthSmart,

When I write, sign a check or open a jar, the pain in my right thumb is unbearable due to osteoarthritis. I’m told I need surgery. But because I take care of my two grandkids, the recovery time scares me. How long will healing take?

HealthSmart asked Dr. David Ruch, M.D., Chief of Hand Surgery and Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine. Here’s his response:

The ‘gold standard’ surgery for your condition is called LTRI (ligament reconstruction tendon interposition). But you’re right to ask about recovery time—which can run four to six months. For the first four to six weeks, you’ll need to wear a supportive brace that will make it hard to do such normal daily tasks as writing and pulling up your pants. After that, you’re looking at another four to six weeks of therapy to gain back strength. Although short term this surgery will dramatically affect your lifestyle, the trade-off is worth it. That’s because this time-honored procedure has a 90 percent success rate for reducing basal thumb pain due to osteoarthritis. Still, if you’re really worried about recovery, you may wish to ask your surgeon if he or she recommends the newer ‘tight rope’ surgery, which has a shorter recovery time.


Dear HealthSmart,

I read recently that mammograms do not need to be administered as often as we previously thought – and that having annual mammograms may do more harm than good. Is this true? How often should women be getting mammograms?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Priscilla Slanetz, M.D., Associate Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. Here’s her response:

Aside from causing discomfort, short-lived anxiety, and perhaps inconveniencing your schedule, traditional mammograms do not cause harm. The way I see it, there is no reason to skip your annual mammogram if there is a chance that it could detect breast cancer, and more importantly in its early stage. The majority of European countries suggest that women only receive a mammogram every two years. Although their survival rates are fairly similar to that of the US, the average size of the cancer is larger, leading to more aggressive, expensive treatment options like chemotherapy and surgery. I would suspect that Europe’s every other year model has a lot to do with national healthcare system. The way I see it, annual mammograms are cost effective and should be done annually for all average risk patients.


Dear HealthSmart,

I’ve been running since I was a teenager and I love it! But now that I’m in my 40s, I fear it’s causing me knee pain. If I continue, could I be setting myself up for knee problems in the future—like osteoarthritis?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Nancy Lane, M.D., Professor of Rheumatology and Aging Health and Director of the Center for Musculoskeletal Health at the University of California Davis Health system. Here’s her response:

There’s no reason to believe that running is damaging your knees if you have no significant risk factors. Such risk factors include a prior history of knee injury or surgery, being overweight or having an abnormality that affects the biomechanics of our knees—like being bow legged or knock kneed. In fact, research shows that for most people, running is actually beneficial because it increases cartilage repair. So running in moderation should be no cause for concern.


Do you have questions on health or wellness you’d like answered by the nation’s leading medical researchers? If so, you can send to HealthSmart is a national newspaper column from the Washington News Service in DC. Due to demand, we are unable to reply to all inquiries. Responses through the column are no substitute for care from physicians or other medical professionals.

Copyright Ellen James Martin 2021


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