You might think that working in your garden is a relatively safe hobby – and compared to mountain climbing or scuba diving, it is. However, it is not without risk. There is a rather uncommon condition called plant thorn arthritis or plant thorn synovitis, which many gardeners are not aware of until they are faced with it. It is a non-infectious inflammation that is the result of getting a plant thorn stuck in a joint. It is hard to believe that such a simple and common act can wreak so much havoc, cause a great deal of pain and possibly end in surgery.
Plants that can cause plant thorn arthritis are those that produce thorns. The list includes, but is not limited to black thorn shrubs, bougainvillea, cacti, mesquite trees, palm trees, plum trees, pyracantha, roses and yucca. Most people, when stuck with a thorn, simply remove it and go about their business, which works the majority of the time. But occasionally, the unlucky gardener finds that days or even weeks later, the site of the injury has become stiff and sore. This type of inflammation of the joint mimics rheumatoid arthritis; symptoms can include redness, swelling, stiffness, warmth, decreased range of motion and pain. Plant thorn arthritis is classified as a monoarthritis, affecting a single joint that does not spread to other joints.
The underlying problem is that once a thorn has been pulled out, there are often tiny bits of plant material that are left behind, causing inflammation. Some plant thorns, roses for example, cannot be seen on an x-ray, making it necessary for alternative diagnostic procedures. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) procedures have all been used to detect residual plant or thorn fragments. Occasionally, fragments can be so small as to be missed even with these diagnostic tools and are only found under a microscope in tissue that has been removed from the joint. Treatment of plant thorn arthritis typically requires surgical removal (synovectomy) of the fragment. Joint aspiration may also be part of the treatment to rule out any fungal or viral infection.
Thorns produce puncture wounds, and due to the fact that they are normally quite small, they are much harder to clean than ordinary cuts. Additionally, dirt and bacteria can be forced into the wound by the thorn, making thorn puncture wounds more susceptible to infection. As a precaution, it is always a good idea to wear gloves while gardening, and puncture resistant, gauntlet gloves are a must when working with thorny plants. If you should find that you’ve gotten a thorn in a joint, do not wait to see a physician if you notice any symptoms of plant thorn arthritis because it can become chronic, if left untreated.
Read more about plant thorn arthritis on MedicineNet.com