Thu May 6, 2004
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A lifetime of using chopsticks may raise the risk of developing arthritis in certain joints of the hand, according to a study of older adults in China.
Among more than 2,500 men and women age 60 and older, researchers found that the prevalence of arthritis was greater in the thumb and fingers people used to manipulate the utensils than in their other hand joints.
The relationship was particularly strong in women, the study authors report in the May issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
They say the pincer grip chopsticks require -- bringing the tips of the fingers and thumb together -- may be to blame. This grip is similar to that used in certain occupations that have been linked to hand arthritis.
And while occasionally using chopsticks at a restaurant is unlikely to cause a problem, the repetitive stress of a lifetime of use might, according to the study's lead author, Dr. David J. Hunter of Boston University School of Medicine.
Chopsticks might not be a major cause of hand arthritis; the Chinese, who typically start using the utensils around age 3, have a lower prevalence of hand arthritis than white populations do.
But in this study, Hunter told Reuters Health, chopsticks accounted for a large amount of the risk of developing arthritis in the joint in the middle of the thumb, especially in women.
Overall, one-quarter of the adults in the study had arthritis in this joint, and the chopstick thumb was more likely than the other thumb to be affected. Joints in the chopstick-using index and middle fingers were also more likely to be arthritic than those joints in the other hand.
The relationship was less clear, though, in men, who also had a high prevalence of arthritis in the last two fingers of the dominant hand -- fingers that do not do the work in chopstick use. Men's higher rate of heavy labor, which could put the whole hand at risk of arthritis, may explain the gender difference, according to the study authors.
The researchers used to X-rays, and not symptoms, to diagnose which joints were arthritic. So, Hunter noted, participants were not necessarily bothered by arthritis pain.
Still, he and his colleagues recommend more research on the mechanics of how chopsticks might promote arthritis. This, they say, could prompt the design of chopsticks that are more ergonomically friendly.
SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, May 2004.