Arthritis of the Hand

The hands and wrists are made up of several small joints that work together to produce motion. Arthritis of the hand occurs when one or more of these joints succumb to inflammation. Many times arthritis is the result of disease or trauma that leads to cartilage loss, but it can be a result of aging.  

Arthritis can occur in multiple areas of the hand and wrist, and if left untreated, joints can begin to lose their shape, resulting in extreme discomfort and loss of mobility.

It is estimated that nearly 50 million Americans suffer from painful arthritis symptoms. Here is the breakdown of people affected by arthritis:

  • 50% of people 65 or older
  • Two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65
  • 34 million Caucasian, 5 million African American, and 3 million Hispanics
  • 25.9% of women and 18.3% of men report diagnosis
  • Adults with arthritis are 54% more likely to be obese

Symptoms of Arthritis of the Hand

The first step to treating arthritis is being able to identify it. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more apparent. Common symptoms related to arthritis include:

  • Pain. In the early stages of arthritis, pain may occur after periods of increased joint use and be coupled with a “dull” or “burning” sensation. The depletion of your cartilage supply means that there is less material to provide shock absorption.
  • Swelling. With more stress on the joint, swelling is common. Your joint may swell in an attempt prevent further joint use.
  • Warmth. When any part of the body becomes inflamed, warmth is usually also a symptom. This is due to your body’s natural inflammatory response and increased blood flow.
  • Grinding Bones. Also known as crepitation, this painful symptom includes the sensation of grating or grinding in the affected joint. This is the result of damaged cartilage surfaces rubbing together.
  • Cysts. Arthritis in the end joints of your fingers may result in the development of small cysts. The cysts may then cause ridging or dents in the nail plate of the affected finger.

Arthritis Treatment at Home

The choice of treatment options depends on several factors including: how far the arthritis has progressed, how many joints are involved, your age, activity level, other medical conditions, if the dominant or non-dominant hand is affected, and your personal ability.

In the beginning stages, there are ways you can treat your arthritis at home to reduce the symptoms; these include:

  • Allowing your joints to rest
  • Taking an OTC anti-inflammatory medication like, acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Performing range-of-motion exercises
  • Applying heat to relieve pain

When to See a Physician for Arthritis Treatment

When you arthritis symptoms have become so unbearable that it begins to affect your daily life, it is time to schedule a visit with your doctor. From medications to surgical treatments, your physician can offer ways to ease the pain and begin treatment of your arthritis symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • Medications. Although medication cannot restore joint cartilage or reverse joint damage, they can be used to stop the body from producing chemicals that cause joint swelling and pain.
  • Injections. Arthritis injections typically contain a long-lasting anesthetic and a steroid that can provide pain relief for up to several months. However, because of possible side effects, like lightening of the skin, weakening of the tendons and ligaments, and infection, you should limit the number of injections you receive.
  • Splinting. Splints may be used in conjunction with injections to limit the amount of stress that is on the joint. Your doctor will regulate how long you should wear the splint because wearing the splint for too long can lead to muscle deterioration.
  • Surgery. As a last resort, your doctor may suggest surgery. There are several options, but if there is any way the joint can be preserved or reconstructed, this option is usually chosen. If the arthritis has become so severe that that is not possible, a joint replacement or a fusion can be performed.