Spotlight on Research for 2004

July 2004 (historical)

Using Chopsticks a Risk Factor for Osteoarthritis in the Hand

Using chopsticks contributes to osteoarthritis (OA) in the hand, according to researchers studying elderly Chinese individuals. Chopstick use puts stress on certain joints, specifically joints of the thumb and second and third fingers. X rays of the subjects' hands showed OA in those joints, even if the subjects reported no pain. This study was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

Approximately 2,500 Beijing residents aged 60 and older participated in the study, led by David J. Hunter, M.D., Ph.D., of Boston University Arthritis Center in Massachusetts. Dr. Hunter and his colleagues looked closely at x rays of the hands the subjects used to hold chopsticks (the "chopstick hand," usually the right hand) and compared them to x rays of the nonchopstick hands.

OA was more common in several of the joints in the three fingers of the chopstick hand than in the nonchopstick hand. Twenty-six percent of the subjects had OA in the interphalangeal joint of the thumb; i.e., the joint closest to the tip of the thumb. Dr. Hunter's group took into account all kinds of daily activities, such as sewing, writing and handling paper, which require subjects to use the pincer grip (pressing the tips of the first and second fingers against the tip of the thumb), and chopsticks use remained a risk factor.

Women, more than men, showed a higher prevalence of OA in several joints of the fingers of the chopstick hand compared to the nonchopstick hand. Dr. Hunter attributes the higher prevalence in women to the fact that women generally develop more hand OA than men. Interestingly, though, OA in both men and women was less prevalent in the joint at the base of the thumb. Apparently, holding chopsticks puts little stress there, offering a protective effect on that particular joint.

OA is a degenerative condition in which cartilage, which cushions the ends of bones, wears away, often leading to joint pain, stiffness and limited movement. OA is the most common type of arthritis, especially among older people. It can occur in any joint, but most often affects the hands, knees, hips or spine.

The mission of the NIAMS, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS Web site at http://www.niams.nih.gov.

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Hunter D, et. al. Chopstick arthropathy: the Beijing osteoarthritis study. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2004;50:1495-1500.