Plant Thorn Arthritis
(Plant Thorn Synovitis or Thorn Arthritis)

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Plant thorn arthritis facts

  • Plant thorn arthritis is a noninfectious inflammation of a joint as a result of a thorn puncturing the joint and leaving residual plant matter lodged within the joint.
  • Plant thorn arthritis typically affects only a single joint -- the joint that was pierced by the plant thorn.
  • Plant thorn arthritis causes the involved joint to be swollen, slightly reddish, stiff, and painful. The joint loses its full range of motion and is often tender.
  • The symptoms of plant thorn arthritis may occur long after the thorn is removed from the affected joint.
  • The diagnosis of plant thorn arthritis requires either detection of a piece of thorn within the joint by radiology testing or surgical removal of the thorn fragments and identification of the fragments microscopically in the laboratory.
  • Synovectomy is the surgical procedure that is used to cure plant thorn arthritis.

What is plant thorn arthritis?

Plant thorn arthritis is a noninfectious inflammation of a joint as a result of a thorn puncturing the joint and leaving residual plant matter lodged within the joint. The plant thorn fragments cause a localized inflammation reaction in the joint lining tissue that leads to swelling, stiffness, loss of range of motion, and pain. The joint lining tissue is called the synovium. Inflammation of this tissue is medically referred to as synovitis. Plant thorn arthritis is also called plant thorn synovitis.

What plants cause plant thorn arthritis?

The plants that commonly cause plant thorn arthritis are those that produce thorns. These plants include palm trees, roses, black-thorn shrubs, cacti, bougainvillea, yucca, pyracantha, plum trees, and mesquite trees.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/22/2014

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Doctor Gets Plant Thorn Arthritis

One patient's story

In a reasonable attempt to better the lives of my daughter, Cara, and son-in-law, Jim, as well as enjoy their company during a concentrated effort, I assisted them in landscaping one fine weekend day. With the primary goal of building a retaining wall and secondary goal of tidying up overgrown greenery, I attacked a palm tree grouping with pruning shears. The palm tree group of three (Phoenix roebelenii to be scientifically precise) hadn't been pruned since they moved in some two years ago. It was well overgrown and in serious need of shaping.

Jim was industriously off at the store purchasing cement blocks, and I was in a hurry to get the pruning completed so as not slow the construction of a block retaining wall upon his return. I was wearing gloves that had extra padding over the knuckles. I finished the pruning in a timely manner and was available to help Jim unload the blocks when they arrived.

We installed the blocks regularly along a well-designed foundation that Jim and his boyhood friend Andrew built. While lifting the blocks, I felt a soreness in my right hand and at first wondered if I had strained the tendons of my fingers by pruning too rapidly. I removed the work glove on my right hand to find two thorn tips embedded in it! One was in the back of first segment (proximal phalanx) of my middle finger. The other was stuck directly in the joint at the base of the middle finger, the knuckle joint (third metacarpophalangeal joint).