We dont often realize just how flexible and fluid the movement in the hand is until we experience stiffness in a digit or joints of the hand and wrist. Trouble with just one small area of the hand can limit mobility and function, and so it is important to never ignore any stiffness in the hands or fingers, and to visit a hand doctor at the first signs of trouble.
What Stiffness May Mean
You probably are aware of the fact that your hands and wrists are made up of many different bones, tendons, muscles, nerves, and other tissue. These are all designed to move smoothly and in many different ways. Most of the joints and tendons are strong and flexible, allowing you to do an almost limitless number of tasks with your hands.
Naturally, because they are used so much, they can be at risk for injury and wear and tear. They can also show signs of various diseases, such as systemic issues like Diabetes, and so you should be aware of any loss of movement or the beginning of stiffness in any part of the hand.
The hands are made of many joints, and this is where you notice stiffness. The joints are very complex structures made up of cartilage, ligaments, bones, muscles, and tendons. Anything that can impair any individual component of a joint is going to cause the entire joint to experience trouble.
So, something like arthritis may cause the rheumatoid cartilage between two bones to begin to degrade (WebMD.com, 2015), and this can cause a problem with movement. This can lead to the joint moving in a way that it had never moved before, and the misalignment can then negatively impact the tendons or the muscles.
Of course, stiffness may not be due to a slow moving disease or problem and can be the result of an injury or trauma. Fractures to the bones of the hand, scarring during healing of tissue, sprains or dislocations, and harm to tendons and muscles can all result in stiffness in the hand.
Clearly, this means that any loss of fluid movement is a sign that it is time to head to the hand doctor.
Evaluation and Treatment
Your hand doctor is your first line of defense when you experience stiffness in any part of the hand, wrist or arm. Your doctor will be able to accurately gauge the range of motion in the digit or limb and determine the underlying cause of the problem. They will test your active range of motion and then do tests using passive motion (this is when they flex or bend the joints to test them). They will look for any signs of swelling and determine if there is tenderness or damage. They may require x-rays as well to gauge whether the problem is due to an undiagnosed issue or something as common as arthritis.
Once they know the cause, they will begin treatment. Most will use conservative methods such as therapeutic modalities (heat, splinting, exercise, etc.) to attempt to adjust any problems. If this is not going to provide relief, they may use medications or surgical treatments appropriate to the condition.
You use your hands far more than you may realize, and when they are not functioning properly due to stiffness it is not only frustrating, it can be dangerous. Dont hesitate to contact your hand doctor if you have even mild stiffness, the sooner you address the issue the better the outcome. Whether it is rheumatoid arthritis or a minor sprain, it shouldnt wait.
WebMD. Joint Stiffness and Rheumatoid Arthritis. 2015. http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/joint-stiffness-and-rheumatoid-arthritis