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What Outcome Can I Expect If I Have Arthritis In My Hands
There is no cure for arthritis. However, you can usually manage mild to moderate symptoms with a combination of medication and non-medication approaches. Surgery may be an option if other treatments fail or the arthritis in your hands is severe. Your healthcare provider will explain what outcome you can expect for your type and severity of arthritis, your age, other existing medical conditions and other factors.
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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Osteoarthritis Of The Hands
Get more information about the causes, symptoms and treatments of hand OA, which is very common and can be debilitating.
About half of all women and one-quarter of all men will experience the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis of the hands by the time they are 85 years old. A degenerative disease that affects all the tissues of a joint, OA leads to the breakdown over time of the smooth, protective cartilage on the ends of bones, so bones rub together, causing pain. The 29 bones of your hands and wrists come together to form many small joints that can be affected by OA.
Can Arthritis In The Hand Be Prevented
Arthritis cant be prevented. However, you can watch for symptoms of arthritis as you age and see your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your joints. You can also take steps to control factors that you can control. Eat healthy to nourish your body and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts more stress on your joints. Dont smoke. Smoking increases your risk of arthritis.
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When To See A Healthcare Provider
Some telltale signs that arthritis has affected your hands include swelling, stiffness, tenderness, and joint pain of your wrists, hands, and fingers.
You should see a healthcare provider when:
- Home treatments arent helping. If you have tried ice, heat therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, and rest without adequate relief, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your practitioner to determine the source of your hand symptoms.
- You have pain in multiple joints. Conditions like RA make several of your joints hurts. So, if you are experiencing pain in other joints, in addition to your hands, it is a good idea to call your healthcare provider and get in for an appointment.
- Your hand joints hurt a lot. If you have severe hand, finger, or wrist pain, this is another reason to call your practitioner.
- You have warmth and redness. Symptoms like redness and warmth are signs of inflammation in the joints and need to be checked out.
- You have gradual pain and stiffness. Any type of joint painwhether in your hands or elsewhere in your bodythat progresses slowly could be linked to an underlying medical illness
Causes Of Arthritis In The Hands
Arthritic conditions can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and tenderness in the small joints of the hands and fingers.
Inflammatory arthritis conditions, like RA, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and ankylosing spondylitis cause inflammation. Symptoms of inflammation include redness, warmth, swelling, and pain. In general, OA is degenerative, rather than inflammatory.
What Type Of Hand Surgery Is Most Commonly Performed On The Specific Joints Affected By Arthritis
- Base of the thumb: Where your thumb and wrist join. Common surgical options include removing part or all of one of the trapezium bone , tendon transfer or joint fusion.
- Knuckles : Joint replacement is almost always considered for this repair. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause serious damage and disability to your knuckles.
- Second joint of your finger : Osteoarthritis commonly causes stiffness and loss of motion. Joint replacement or fusion are considered for these joints. Because you use these joints frequently, there is a chance your implant could wear out. In this case, your provider may recommend further surgery.
- Top of finger joint : Joint fusion is commonly used to treat arthritis in this joint.
What Do I Do If I Think I Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
If youre experiencing joint pain and inflammation, its important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible means that treatment can start quickly. Early treatment will help you to control the inflammation, manage pain more effectively and minimise the risk of long-term joint damage and disability.
If youre diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or suspected of having the condition, you may be referred to a medical specialist known as a rheumatologist for further investigations and medical treatment.
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Make A Few Wardrobe Changes
Minor changes to your wardrobe can reduce strain on your hands, helping to ease your overall pain and stiffness. For example, try wearing:
- Shoes that slip on or use Velcro rather than shoelaces
- Shirts that pull over the head rather than button up
- Pants that have elastic waistbands rather than snaps and zippers
Other lifestyle changes can also be helpful. For example, when cooking, use a jar opener, lightweight pots and pans, and kitchen utensils with large handles. An occupational therapist can give you additional ideas on how to reduce strain on hand joints.
Small Studies Show Value Of Essential Oils For Pain
When 36 adults with RA or other inflammatory conditions had their hands massaged twice a day for five straight days, using either a blend of essential oils or basic coconut oil, the aromatherapy group reported less pain and more strength in their fingers, according to results published in November 2018 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.
And a review of 42 small studies on aromatherapys use with all kinds of pain, published in November 2016 in the journal Pain Research and Treatment, concluded that aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments.
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Exercise #: Wrist Stretch
Dont forget about your wrists, which can also get sore and stiff from arthritis. To exercise your wrist, hold your right arm out with the palm facing down. With your left hand, gently press down on the right hand until you feel a stretch in your wrist and arm. Hold the position for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times. Then, do the entire sequence with the left hand.
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What Is Arthritis Of The Hand
Arthritis is a disease that attacks the tissues of your joints. A joint is where two bones meet. Arthritis can attack the lining of your joint or the cartilage, the smooth covering at the ends of bones. Eventually the cartilage breaks down, the ends of your bones become exposed, rub against each other and wear away. You have many joints in your hand, therefore its a common site for arthritis to happen.
Arthritis of the hand causes pain and swelling, stiffness and deformity. As arthritis progresses, you cant use your hands to manage everyday tasks as you once could.
Diagnosing Hand And Finger Arthritis
First, its important to correctly diagnose hand or finger arthritis, advises Dr. Newsum. Sometimes, patients experience hand or finger pain or stiffness and assume its arthritis, but there are other conditions that can cause these symptoms, he adds.
In addition to arthritis, two other common causes of hand and finger pain include trigger finger and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Trigger finger is a tendonitis of the fingers flexor tendons, whereas carpal tunnel is caused by compression of a nerve in the hand, explains Dr. Newsum.
Carpal tunnel usually causes numbness, tingling or electric shooting nerve sensations in the hands that can be worse at night or aggravated by certain activities, but it can present without numbness and be mistaken for arthritis, too.
With trigger finger, pain is usually experienced in the palm of the hand at the base of the fingers. The finger can click and even get stuck in a particular position or just may cause stiffness with difficulty bending the fingers.
Clicking or sticking of a finger is a distinct symptom of trigger finger and not arthritis, clarifies Dr. Newsum.
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What Are The Causes Of Hand Arthritis
The exact cause of hand arthritis is unknown. The condition usually develops due to wear and tear of the joint, which occurs gradually over time.
Theres also a genetic component to hand OA. Family members may develop OA at a younger age than the general population, and may have more severe disease.
A healthy joint has cartilage at the end of the bone that cushions and allows smooth movement. In OA, cartilage deteriorates, exposing the underlying bone, which triggers joint pain and stiffness.
Your risk for OA increases if you:
- have a family member who also has degenerative joint pain of the hands
- have a job that requires a lot of hand work such as manufacturing
- have had a hand injury
The more you use your hands, the more wear and tear you place on the joints and the cartilage that supports them.
Theres also a higher risk factor for hand arthritis if youre female. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
People born with malformed joints or defective cartilage are also more likely to develop this condition.
Diagnosing hand arthritis involves an evaluation and tests. Your doctor will check the joints in your hand for signs of OA.
- limited range of motion
In some cases, your doctor will also order an X-ray to look for cartilage loss and other signs of damage. This can indicate arthritis of the hand and that they should look for potential bone spurs and erosions.
Rarely, your doctor might order an MRI to look more closely at your bones and soft tissue.
Treating Hand Arthritis At Home
Arthritis limits hand dexterity and makes everyday tasks more difficult. Described below are several ways people can help relieve stress on their hand joints and make some tasks easier.
Rest the hands periodicallyGive the joints and tendons in the hand a needed break. For example, people who type at a computer may need to take regular breaks or divide their work into regular intervals, working for just 2 or 3 hours at a time.
Apply heat A warm compress or paraffin wax hand bath can soothe affected joints. Applying heat to the hand warms up the synovial fluid that lubricates joints, easing stiffness, and improving flexibility.
Adapt when possible
A few simple lifestyle changes and products can reduce strain on the hands and minimize arthritis pain and swelling. For example:
- Wear coats and shirts with zippers instead of buttons.
- Use long zipper pulls, which are also larger than regular zipper pulls and therefore easier to grasp. Some specialized zipper pulls are made with looped cloth or nylon and allow the user to stick a finger through and pull up or down.
- Choose lightweight cooking and gardening tools that are easier to lift and hold.
- Buy slip-on shoes to avoid having to tie shoelaces.
In addition to making changes at home, people with arthritis may consider treatments recommended by their physician.
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Reducing The Strain On Your Hands And Wrists
We use our hands a lot in daily life. If you have osteoarthritis in your hands or wrists, taking some time to think about how you use them, and how you could reduce the strain on them, can bring great benefits. This doesnât mean you shouldnât use your hands, just that you should think about ways of using them differently.
It may be helpful to see an occupational therapist or hand therapist, who will be able to offer a lot of useful advice on this. But many people discover for themselves different ways of doing things that help to ease the strain on their joints. Examples include:
- using gadgets such as electric tin openers or tools with softer, chunkier handles that donât need such a tight grip
- using a backpack or shopping trolley to avoid carrying heavy bags in your hands
- taking more frequent breaks from tasks that put more strain on your joints or switching between harder and easier jobs
- using both hands for some of the tasks that you normally do one-handed
- having taps or door handles changed for those that are easier to use
- looking out for easy-to-handle fastenings when choosing clothing or shoes.
Find out more about looking after your joints.
How Will It Affect Me
The symptoms of hand osteoarthritis can vary between different people and over time. You’ll probably have good days and bad days. You may find this depends on what you’re doing, but sometimes there may not be any obvious reason.
If the joints are inflamed then they’re likely to look swollen and red and to feel warm and tender to the touch. You’re likely to have pain, especially when using your hands but sometimes even while resting. Swelling can also cause the soft tissues around a joint to stretch, which can make your hands feel weak or unstable.
As we use our hands such a lot in daily life, pain, stiffness or poor grip strength can cause problems with a wide variety of tasks and activities including:
- opening jars and cans
- holding a pen or cutlery
- doing up buttons or zips
- shaving, brushing your teeth, or drying yourself after a bath or shower.
Hand osteoarthritis often tends to ‘burn out’ after a time. It may be painful for a few years and then the pain may improve, especially if only the small finger joints are affected. Any firm, knobbly swellings or nodes that have developed will remain though. And the range of movement in the joints doesn’t always improve even when the pain does.
Sometimes the weather, especially cold weather, can make your symptoms worse. However, the weather won’t affect the long-term outlook or how the condition progresses.
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What You Can Do
Arthritis is a common condition with many treatment options. Because it worsens over time, it’s best to seek medical care early. Even if you think your hand pain is mild, make an appointment with your doctor. You can perform exercises, wear arthritis gloves, and take medications to manage the symptoms.
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Signs Symptoms And Treatment
Our fingers are important! We use them constantly, all day long: to brush our teeth, to send emails, to cook our meals. When arthritis affects the fingers, everyday tasks become difficult and painful. So what can we do when our finger joints begin to cause problems?
This article provides more information about arthritis in the fingers, what causes it, and what you can do to help keep your fingers moving.
Verywell / Cindy Chung