What is arthritis in the hand?

Arthritis in the hand occurs when the multiple small joints that work together to produce motion get inflamed and swell. Arthritis in the hand can occur in many areas within the hand.

Causes of arthritis in the hand

Arthritis in the hand is typically caused by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis in the hand — rheumatoid arthritis (a chronic, autoimmune disease) most commonly starts in the small joints in the hands.
  • Osteoarthrosis in the hand — osteoarthritis in the hand occurs from everyday wear and tear in the hand. It typically occurs gradually from activities or careers that require repetitive motions.

Risk factors for hand arthritis

Risk factors for osteoarthritis in the hand include:

  • Age — although people of all ages can get arthritis, before age 45 more men develop arthritis than women and more women are impacted than men after the age of 45.
  • Trauma — people who have broken a bone in their hand, wrist or elbow are at a higher risk for developing osteoarthritis.
  • Repetitive movements — people who do jobs or activities that require repetitive movement in the hands are more likely to develop hand, wrist or elbow osteoarthritis.
  • Joint misalignment — excess joint friction from misaligned bones in the hands, wrists or elbows can wear the cartilage in the hand, wrist or elbow down.

Risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in the hand include:

  • Gender — women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men.
  • Age — rheumatoid arthritis in the hand typically develops between the age of 40 and 60.
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Environmental exposures

Symptoms of arthritis in the hand

The most common symptoms or signs of arthritis in the hand are joint pain and stiffness; numbness; and weakness in the hand.

Other symptoms of arthritis in the hand include:

  • Inability to bend a finger
  • Snapping or locking feeling in the hands or fingers
  • Boutonniere deformity — a deformity where the middle finger joint becomes bent
  • Mucus-filled cysts that form near the ends of the finger
  • Warmth — a joint that is arthritic may feel warm to the touch
  • Sensation of grinding or grating within the hand
  • Sensation of the joints in the hand being unstable or loose

Diagnosis of arthritis in the hand

Arthritis in the hand is diagnosed in a physical exam by your orthopedic physician.

Typically, the physician will order an x-ray to determine if there is severe deformity in the joint that will need different treatments. In other cases, the physician may order a MRI or bone scan. A bone scan can catch arthritis in the very early stages.

Treatments for arthritis in the hand

Treatments for arthritis in the hand range from medical management to surgery and joint replacement surgery.

Your orthopedic physician will evaluate how advanced the disease is and decide on the treatment option most appropriate for you.

Options include:

  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation
  • Arthroscopic debridement
  • Arthrodesis/fusion surgery
  • Arthroplasty/joint replacement surgery
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection

Recovery from arthritis in the hand

There is no cure for arthritis in the hand. The goal of treatment is to minimize the symptoms while maximizing the function of the hand and fingers.

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