Living with Arthritis in Your Hands

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 08/28/2018

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Arthritis in the hands or wrists can really limit what you do. Even everyday tasks like tying your shoes can be difficult. This article explores what causes arthritis in hands and how you might be able to get relief.

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is generally more common and often occurs in seniors, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Yet when it comes to arthritis in the hands and wrists, rheumatoid arthritis is often to blame, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand reports – especially in the wrist and knuckles. Learn more about osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

What causes arthritis in hands?

Arthritis in hands can have several possible causes, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), such as:

  • A broken joint due to an injury – a broken finger, for instance
  • Disease causing cartilage to wear away between the joints
  • Wear and tear causing cartilage to wear away over the years (according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand)

What are the symptoms of arthritis in hands?

Some signs of arthritis in the hand (according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website) may include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness of the hand or thumb
  • Nodules (hard lumps) at the middle or end finger joints

Rheumatoid arthritis may also cause swelling, pain, or stiffness – or it may have other symptoms, such as these listed by the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH):

  • Finger(s) swollen in a sausage shape
  • Fingers gradually moving away from the thumb
  • A soft lump on the back of the hand
  • A bent middle finger
  • A creaking sound when you move your finger(s)

How might doctors treat arthritis in hands?

Doctors generally start with treatments that don’t involve surgery to treat arthritis in the hand, reports the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH). Temporarily resting the joint, and using a splint to help keep it in place (especially while you sleep) might help. Exercising the joint is important, so your doctor might prescribe physical therapy.

Doctors might treat rheumatoid arthritis in the hand with medications. Steroid injections from time to time may provide relief from either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the hand, according to the ASSH.

In some cases, you might need surgery to treat the arthritis in your hands, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. There are various types of surgery, such as fusion and joint replacement with an artificial joint. Fusion involves removing damaged joint surfaces and cartilage, and attaching one bone to another. You will no longer be able to move the fused joint, but your pain should be gone, according to the ASSH.

What can you do to manage the pain from arthritis in your hands?

Home treatment may vary, depending on what type of arthritis you have in your hands and what your doctor determines is appropriate for you.  Here are some of the ways your doctor might recommend to manage arthritis in the hands:

  • Heat compresses (or, in some cases, ice packs)
  • Splints
  • Injections, such as steroids

Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicare health library, American Society for Surgery of the Hand

Doctors sometimes treat rheumatoid arthritis in the hands with prescription drugs, reports the ASSH.

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