Types of Arthritis: Hand Arthritis

By Lewis, Sarah, PharmD

It’s easy to take your hands for granted because you use them for almost everything from driving to writing to helping to express yourself. Yet, your hands are marvels of movement and control that are made up of 19 bones, plus eight more bones in your wrist. All these bones and the joints between them allow you to perform countless fine motor movements. But when you have hand arthritis, even simple daily activities can be painful and difficult.

How Will I Know If I Have Hand Arthritis?

As with any kind of arthritis, common symptoms of hand arthritis are joint pain, swelling and stiffness. You may feel a dull ache or a burning sensation. When arthritis affects your hands, you can also have weakness in your wrists and hands. You may notice that it’s difficult to open jars, grasp utensils, write, or turn a key. You may also feel a grinding sensation in the joints when you use your hands.

A common place for hand arthritis is at the base of your thumb where it connects to your wrist. Your wrist itself is another common area for hand arthritis. Bumps can develop in these areas from bone spurs and you may notice the area is warm. Sometimes, you may have soft cysts or nodules on the backs of your hands.

Arthritis can also occur at the base of your other fingers where they meet your hand. When these joints are involved, you may notice your fingers start to drift toward the outside of your hand instead of coming straight out from your hand.

Your doctor can probably tell that you have hand arthritis by looking at your hands and from your symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend some tests to verify your diagnosis, such as blood tests and other lab tests, X-rays, and other imaging tests, such as a bone scan.

Are There Different Types of Hand Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of hand arthritis. OA develops from wear and tear on your joints. With time, your cartilage deteriorates, leaving bare bone to rub on bone. This causes the uncomfortable, and often painful, symptoms of arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another common form of hand arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease that most commonly affects smaller joints, such as the ones in your hands. It tends to affect both hands in a similar pattern.

Other forms of arthritis that can affect your hands include:

  • Traumatic arthritis, which can occur after a hand injury

  • Psoriatic arthritis, which can occur with psoriasis, a chronic, inflammatory skin condition

  • Gout, which most often occurs in your big toe but can sometimes affect your hands

  • Septic arthritis, which is caused by a joint infection

Who Gets Hand Arthritis?

The risk factors for developing hand arthritis are similar to those for other joints. These include:

  • Older age, especially being 50 years of age and older

  • Family history of arthritis

  • Past hand injury or surgery

  • Smoking

What Can Be Done to Remedy Hand Arthritis?

You don’t have to suffer with hand arthritis. An active treatment plan will help relieve your symptoms and maintain the function of your hands. You can follow these strategies for hand arthritis relief:

  • Medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to reduce pain and inflammation

  • Corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation

  • Splinting with either rigid splints or soft wrist sleeves

  • Adaptive equipment to help you perform daily activities with less discomfort. Your doctor may send you to a hand therapist or an occupational therapist to evaluate your needs.

  • Cold therapy and heat therapy with paraffin wax baths

With certain forms of hand arthritis, such as RA, you may also need medicine to control your immune system. These treatments include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which help slow down joint destruction. Biologic response modifiers (BRMs)can reduce inflammation and permanent joint damage.

Despite your best efforts to keep your arthritis under control, your doctor may recommend surgery for you if you can no longer use your hand or if your pain is severe. Joint fusion and joint replacement are surgical options for hand arthritis. You can work with your doctor in deciding if surgery is right for you.

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD Copyright: © Copyright 2012 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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Treatments for any type of arthritis are largely the same.