Osteoarthritis and Your Hands

Arthritis appears in many different variations. Some types of arthritis can show up in any region of the body, some strike single joints are locations, and some appear only when a joint or limb has been damaged or injured. One of the most common types of arthritis is the variety known as osteoarthritis, and when it appears in the hands it usually does so in a limited number of places.

The most common spots for osteoarthritis to appear in your hands are the end joints closes to the tip of the finger (technically known as the DIP joint); the base of the thumb where it meets the wrist (known officially as the trapezio-metacarpal or basilar joints); and the joint in the middle of a finger (called the PIP joint).

Though it may show up in other areas, including the wrist, it is most likely to develop in the spots listed.

It is not like rheumatoid arthritis that attacks the synovium, but is instead a “wear and tear” type of arthritis that causes inflammation due to the loss of the cartilage between the different joints. In osteoarthritis, which is known as a degenerative condition, the pads of cartilage between bones wear down or are damaged and then begin to degrade. This leaves your bones actually rubbing against one another, and it can cause a long list of symptoms.

The Signs of Osteoarthritis

Obviously, the most common symptom associated with two bones rubbing together is pain, but many people with osteoarthritis in the hands will experience stiffness, an inability to flex or move the affected joint, tenderness in the joint, bone spurs, and an obvious sense of the two bones grating against one another (MayoClinic.org, 2015).

Bone spurs or bony nodules are very noticeable when you have osteoarthritis of the hands, and you will notice the unnatural swelling at the joints most commonly affected. The sense of pain is often described as aching, but many also complain of a loss in the ability to grip tightly or have much strength in the hands too.

Treating the Condition

As in other arthritis treatments, the focus of the treatment of osteoarthritis in the hands is to alleviate pain when present while also restoring or maintaining function. To do this requires a few different tactics, and it is only after a visit to your hand doctor that a full and proper regimen can be developed.

You may be given anti-inflammatory medications and instructed to use rest whenever any swelling occurs. Further modalities might include the use of heat and hot wax treatments, splints, and other therapies. It is also not unusual for steroid injections to be relied upon to help with movement and swelling. The only reason that a doctor may suggest surgery is when pain is not alleviated through more conservative treatments or when movement and function have been lost.

Osteoarthritis is not something you can easily avoid, but it is treatable. A visit to your hand doctor at the first signs of stiffness or swelling can put you on the track to protection of the joints and treatments that protect your hands function.


MayoClinic.org. Osteoarthritis Symptoms. 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/basics/symptoms/con-20014749