When Hand Or Wrist Pain May Mean Arthritis
Learn about the various causes of hand or wrist pain, including different kinds of arthritis.
Many forms of arthritis and related conditions that affect different parts of the hands. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling or numbness in the wrist and fingers. Pitted nails, painful ulcers or thickened skin that makes bending the fingers difficult may also occur. Here are some diseases that affect the hands.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Also known as wear and tear arthritis, OA is a chronic condition caused by the breakdown of the cartilage, which cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. This breakdown causes the bones to rub together, causing stiffness, pain and loss of joint movement.
In hand OA, the joints most commonly affected by OA are the wrists, the joints at the base of the thumb, the middle finger joints and the joints closest to fingernails. In the finger joints, OA can lead to the formation of nodes .
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by a faulty immune system that primarily attacks joints . The result can be joint pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of function. RA commonly affects the wrist and finger joints. RA usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body . If untreated, the disease can cause joint deformities that make it difficult to use the hands.
Occupational Therapy Eases Pain And Improves Function When Osteoarthritis Occurs In The Joint Connecting Thumb And Wrist
When it comes to arthritis, some joints seem to get all the attention. We talk about knees and hips an awful lot. Our knees and hips must work well for walking, and a third or more of adults over age 65 develop osteoarthritis in these joints, resulting in over a million joint replacements in the US each year.
But what about the first carpometacarpal joint that connects your thumb to your wrist? Thats surprisingly important, yet most people cant name it and only become aware of it once it becomes arthritic. Fortunately, research recently confirmed that a common therapy requiring no medication can effectively treat this type of arthritis.
Berries Apples And Pomegranates
Berries are rich in antioxidants and the Arthritis Foundation notes that blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and boysenberries all provide arthritis-fighting power. Youll get health benefits no matter if you eat them frozen, fresh or dehydrated , so be sure to eat a variety of berries throughout the week.
Apples are also high in antioxidants and a good source of fiber. Plus, they provide crunch and can help curb your appetite for unhealthy snacks, Dunn says.
Pomegranates, which are classified as berry fruits, are rich in tannins which can fight the inflammation of arthritis. Add these to a salad or stir into plain yogurt for some added benefits.
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A New Study Confirms Effectiveness Of Occupational Therapy
The study enrolled 180 people with first-CMC osteoarthritis. Their average age was 63 and 80% were women.
Half were randomly assigned to receive occupational therapy while the other half only received information about osteoarthritis.
The results demonstrated that a three-month course of occupational therapy effectively relieved pain at rest and after exercise, and improved grip strength and function.
This study is among the best research evaluating occupational therapy for this condition. However, it had some limitations. Treatment assignments were not blinded: participants knew if they received occupational therapy or not, so expectations and the impact of the placebo effect could have affected the results. The study lasted just three months, so the impact of occupational therapy over the long term was not assessed.
How Arthritis In The Hands Is Treated
If youre diagnosed with an inflammatory form of arthritis, you have more treatment options than someone with OA. While nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage the pain of both types of arthritis, the development of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologics has vastly improved the prognosis of those with inflammatory forms of arthritis by reducing inflammation and preventing further joint damage.
Cortisone injections can be useful for those with OA and conditions such as RA, though theyre usually used in patients whose inflammatory arthritis is limited to just one or two joints, Dr. Byram says. Injections of hyaluronic acid can be helpful for those with OA , but these are better for managing pain in larger joints like the knees rather than the hands.
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Managing General Ra Pain
While acupuncture for RA hand pain and symptoms hasnt been examined, studies have explored using acupuncture to manage general RA pain. They demonstrate that acupuncture can curb pain because it boosts endorphins, the bodys natural pain killers.
For example, a 2018 systematic review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found acupuncture alone or with other therapies can help manage pain and function and improve quality of life in people with RA without side effects.
How Is Thumb Arthritis Diagnosed
To make a diagnosis of thumb arthritis, your doctor will start by gathering your medical history, discussing symptoms, prior injuries, and what activities cause you pain.
For the physical examination, your doctor will hold the basal joint while rocking your thumb back and forth, Dr. Luo says. If that causes pain or a grinding sound, it means the bones are rubbing directly against each other and likely have thumb arthritis. An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis.
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Are Glucosamine And Chondroitin Supplements Helpful For Treating Osteoarthritis Of The Hand
Supplements are not reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration . They are not required to undergo the same rigorous clinical trial methods that medications must undergo in the U.S. Some clinical trials show benefits with pain relief however, there is no proof that these supplements slow the progression of osteoarthritis. If you plan to try these, always check with your healthcare provider before using supplements. These products may interfere with medications you currently take.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Dull or burning joint pain, morning stiffness, swollen joints in your hand are all symptoms of arthritis. Many types of arthritis could affect your hands. Many treatment options are available depending on your exact arthritis type. Medications can reduce joint pain and swelling. Researchers are still working on ways to slow the progression of osteoarthritis. See your healthcare provider if you think you have arthritis in your hands. They will perform a complete exam and offer you a complete treatment plan, which includes hand exercises, use of hot and cold packs, other lifestyle tips and traditional treatments including medications, braces/splints, steroid injections and surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/06/2021.
Who Gets Arthritis In Their Hands
You are more likely to get arthritis in your hands if:
- Youre older. Osteoarthritis is commonly seen after age 50. Rheumatoid arthritis typically first appears between the age of 35 and 50.
- Youre a woman.
- Youre overweight.
- Youve had previous injuries to your hand. If youve dislocated or broken any joints in your hands or fingers, you are more likely to develop arthritis.
- You’ve inherited genes that cause the development of arthritis.
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Top 5 Things You Can Do To Help Relieve Arthritis In The Hands
If you have joint stiffness, joint swelling or pain with movement in your hands, there is a good chance that you may have arthritis. The bones in your hands are protected by cartilage, which can eventually wear down over time and cause a condition called osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis is also known as wear and tear arthritis and it is normally caused by age, repetitive joint movement and trauma. Rheumatoid arthritis, which is the result of an autoimmune condition, can also affect the hands. While there is no cure for arthritis, here are the top 5 things that you can do to help relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis in the hands:
Staying Physically Active Despite Hand Arthritis
Your doctor will tell you and probably has already that staying physically active is an important part of managing arthritis. In fact, according to a study of 5,715 adults with arthritis over age 65, a lack of regular, vigorous physical activity doubled the risk of functional decline. In other words, the less physically active the participants were, the more likely they were to become disabled.
Of course, despite data showing that physical activity helps people with arthritis become stronger and more flexible, anyone with arthritis will tell you that sometimes pain or stiffness makes it hard to get going, let alone lift weights at the gym. People with arthritis often give up activities they think of as optional, such as exercising or gardening, in order to have enough energy for the activities they feel obligated to do, such as cleaning the house. One study found that only 13 percent of men and 8 percent of women with arthritis met federal guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.
If symptoms of arthritis in your hands or elsewhere are preventing you from participating in the physical activities you used to enjoy and that are good for you it may be time to find new ways to be active. For example, you may want to experiment with water activities such as swimming, or try tai chi, dance, or walking .
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Avoid Working Through The Pain
The most important thing to remember is to avoid working through the pain. Pain is a sign that you need to stop what you are doing, take a break from the task, and modify the task so you can perform it in a pain-free manner.
To find an excellent doctor who is right for you, please call our Physician Referral Service at 866.804.1007.
Weight Management And Diet
Although the link between your weight and osteoarthritis of the hands may be less clear than for weight-bearing joints such as the knees, some research shows that being overweight increases inflammation and therefore pain. Therefore, if you have osteoarthritis of the hand or wrist, it still makes sense to try to maintain, or achieve, a healthy weight.
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How Is Thumb Arthritis Treated
The first method of treatment for thumb arthritis involves wearing a soft brace to limit the movement of your thumb, which allows the joint to rest. If the condition is more serious, a hard brace can be used, and either type can be worn overnight or intermittently throughout the day.
Other noninvasive steps include taking anti-inflammatory medications, modifying your activities, and icing the joint for 5 to 15 minutes several times a day.
If these methods do not help, the next step would be to inject a steroid medication directly into the joint. The injection may provide relief for several months and can be repeated indefinitely. Both men and women typically respond well to such conservative treatments at first, and for some, they may be all that is needed. But the treatments dont stop arthritis from progressing.
When nonsurgical approaches are no longer effective, surgery is an option. The best type of surgery for you depends on a number of factors, including the progression of the disease and how painful the symptoms are. In most cases, surgery for thumb arthritis involves removing some or part of trapezium with varying ways of stabilizing the joint.
How To Deal With Arthritis Pain In The Hands
Especially as a person ages, it’s common to experience pain in the hands that’s caused by arthritis. It’s most often the result of a loss of cartilage that can leave bone rubbing on bone, or what’s called osteoarthritis. Inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis that leads to swollen fingers and toes can also be to blame.
While some are able to handle a mild degree of discomfort, arthritis in the hands is frequently more than a fleeting annoyance, and it can even lead to hand deformity if left untreated. As pain becomes more regular and severe, it can affect a person’s ability to do everything from activities they enjoy — like golf or other forms of recreation — to those things they need to do just to get through the day, from buttoning a shirt to gripping a cup of coffee in the morning.
Fortunately, there are ways you can ease arthritis-related hand pain, including:
— Rest and modifying activities.
Rest and Modifying Activities
Some of this — like giving your hands a break when they hurt — is intuitive, at least to a degree. But it’s a balance, since you can’t always seek to avoid using your hands when they hurt. You want to make sure to maintain suppleness in your fingers, “because losing motion is a consequence that can be hard to correct and can have long-term consequences for folks,” says Dr. Philip Blazar, chief of hand surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Heat and Cold
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How To Treat Osteoarthritis
The goals in treating osteoarthritis are to relieve pain and restore function. Brief rest either by changing activities or wearing a splint can help. Soft, snug sleeves can help support a joint when rigid splints are too restrictive. Heat can soothe the joints and help keep them mobile. It is important to keep as much finger motion and function as possible. Hand therapists can teach joint protection exercises and activity modification to help protect joints. Anti-inflammatory medication or a steroid injection into the joint can decrease pain, but neither cures osteoarthritis.
Surgery is considered when the non-surgical options above have not helped. In most cases, you will tell your doctor when you are ready for surgery. The goal is to restore as much function as possible and to minimize your pain. One type of surgery is joint fusion. The worn cartilage is removed and the bones on each side of the joint are fused together, which means that the joint will not move but it will not hurt. Another choice is joint reconstruction, where the rough joint surface is removed and either replaced with your own soft tissue or with an implant. The type of surgery depends on the joint involved, your anatomy, and your activities. Your hand surgeon can help you decide which type of surgery is the best for you.
This content is written, edited and updated by hand surgeon members of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.Find a hand surgeon near you.
Hand Osteoarthritis Causes And Risk Factors
Osteoarthritis was once thought to happen because of wear and tear on your joints. Doctors now know thereâs more to the story.
On the ends of your bones, there’s a layer of smooth material called cartilage. It helps cushion your joints and allows them to slide easily. But over time, the cartilage gets worn down. The bones rub against each other, causing the symptoms of OA. The wear and tear can also cause other tissues in the joint to make inflammatory cells, which damage it more.
Certain things can make you more likely to have hand OA:
- Age. The older you are, the higher your odds.
- Sex. Compared with men, women are twice as likely to get it.
- Ethnicity. Rates are lower in African Americans.
- Weight. Thinner people are less likely to get it than those who have obesity.
- Injuries. This includes broken and dislocated bones.
- Changes in your genes. Your parents might have passed down a higher chance of OA.
- Joint problems. This includes infections, loose ligaments, overuse, and joints that arenât aligned the way they should be.
What causes flare-ups?
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The Diagnosis Of Osteoarthritis
When diagnosing osteoarthritis, your doctor will ask you about your hands and other joints. Explain how your symptoms affect what you do. Your doctor will check how your hands look and function. X-rays of joints with osteoarthritis can show loss of normal joint space, bone spurs, or other changes.
Managing Hand And Wrist Pain
Research shows it is effective for providing symptom relief for people with carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand because of a squeezed nerve in the wrist.
A study reported in 2017 in the journal Brain found people with carpal tunnel can experience improvements in pain and numbness using acupuncture. In addition, researchers suggested acupuncturewhen done correctlycan also offer long-term benefits and continued improvements in hand function.
These findings could hold promise for hand pain associated with arthritis.
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Inflammatory Arthritis Vs Osteoarthritis: Causes And Symptoms
Arthritis actually describes over 100 different conditions that affect joints and the surrounding tissue. They fall into two main categories: inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis .
Inflammatory arthritis is a systemic disease in which the mechanisms that normally protect your body attack your own joints and tissues instead. The most well-known example is rheumatoid arthritis its hallmark symptom is prolonged stiffness and achiness in the morning after waking up. RA also tends to be symmetrical, meaning youll have problems in the same joints on both sides of your body, like both wrists or both knees.
The second type of arthritis and the most common form is osteoarthritis. A degenerative disorder, its caused by trauma or age-related wear and tear on your joints over time. Osteoarthritis is most likely to affect weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hip, lower spine or big toe, but it can also cause pain and stiffness in your thumb or finger joints.
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