Thumb problems are common in some health professionals such as physical therapists. The purpose of this case-control study is to investigate the influence of clinical experience and different mobilization techniques on the kinematics of the thumb. Twenty-three participants without exposure to manual techniques (the Novice Group) and fifteen physical therapists with at least 3 years of orthopedic experience (the Experienced Group) participated. The kinematics of the thumb while performing 3 different simulated posteroanterior (PA) glide mobilization techniques on a load cell was monitored. These 3 techniques were: 1) unsupported, 2) with digital support and 3) with thumb interphalangeal joint supported by the index finger. The amount of forces exerted were 25% to 100% of maximum effort at 25% increments. The main effects of experience and technique on thumb kinematics were assessed. Both experience and technique had main effects on the flexion/extension angles of the thumb joints. Experienced participants assumed a more flexed position at the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint, and the novice participants performed with angles closer to the neutral position (F = 7.593, p = 0.010). Participants’ metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints were in a more flexed position while performing PA glide with thumb interphalangeal (IP) joint supported by the index as compared to the other two techniques (p < .001).
Negative correlations were generally obtained between the sagittal plane angles of adjacent thumb joints during mobilization/manipulation. Therapists are recommended to treat patient with more stable PA glide mobilization techniques, such as PA glide with thumb interphalangeal joint supported by the index finger, to prevent potential mobilization-related thumb disorders.