Doctor Gets Plant Thorn Arthritis

One patient's story

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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.

Picture of the Phoenix roebelenii palms with the thorn that caused the plant thorn arthritis
This is the actual grouping of three Phoenix roebelenii palms that had the thorn causing plant thorn arthritis.

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).

A thorn on this Phoenix roebelenii measures 3 ½ inches in length.
A thorn on this Phoenix roebelenii measures 3 ½ inches in length.

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