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What Does Rheumatoid Arthritis In The Hands Feel Like
When your hands are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, you may experience swelling around the affected joint, which leads to pain or tenderness. The joint may feel warm to the touch. Swelling tends to be symmetrical, which means it occurs in the same joints on both right and left hands.
Stiffness with immobility is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands as well, says Lindsay S. Lally, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Symptoms like stiffness and pain are usually worse in the morning, and can last at least 30 minutes or more.
Together these hand symptoms can impair function and the ability to go about your daily routine and tasks.
This can manifest in difficulty using the fingers, decreased hand dexterity, inability to bend or straighten affected joints, and decreased strength, says Dr. Albayda. Sometimes RA can cause loosening of ligaments and tendons in the hands, resulting in permanent deformities of the hand, adds Dr. Lally. Evidence suggests that hand deformities commonly occur in the first year of rheumatoid arthritis if it goes untreated.
Some specific hand problems and deformities that can be caused or made worse by rheumatoid arthritis include:
What Are The First Signs Of Arthritis In Your Hands
If you are having pain in your hands and it is frequent, you may have arthritis. Having persistent pains in your hands is one of the signs of arthritis, and another possible cause of pain could be carpal tunnel.
Arthritis can cause joint destruction if it is severe. Knowing the signs of arthritis will help you get your hands treated quickly. The faster you get it treated, the better.
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Inflammatory Arthritis Vs Osteoarthritis
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 , which 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. OA 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.
Avoid Excessive Gripping/twisting/turning Tasks
Osteoarthritis symptoms are often triggered by overuse activities. Therefore, to deter an increase in pain and stiffness, avoid excessive gripping/twisting/turning tasks. There are many commercially available items than can help you avoid straining your hands. For instance:
Electric can opener Can significantly decrease the amount of stress on the hand, versus using a manual can opener.
Electric and automatic jar openers Also handy to use at home to decrease strain to the hands.
Lumpy Bumpy Swollen Or Red The Signs Are Similar But They Indicate Different Types Of Arthritis Conditions
What happened to your thumb or fingers? Those versatile tools that always enabled you to skillfully button a shirt, open a jar, or tap out your thoughts on a keyboard are now stiff, hurting, and even changing shape.
Arthritis is most likely the problem, and its effects can compromise your independence. The American College of Rheumatology has a campaign on how arthritis and other rheumatic conditions affect lives, and the symbol is a fork with twisted tines. That sums it up. Using a fork or doing any simple task can become difficult, whether its using your cellphone, typing, grooming, cooking, or eating, says Dr. Jeffrey Sparks, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a rheumatologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Womens Hospital.
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How Does Ra Affect The Hands And Fingers
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the joint lining or synovium the tissue that produces fluid to help joints move smoothly. The resulting stiffness, swelling, joint damage, and deformities make it difficult to use the hands. When joint damage becomes severe, it can lead to complete loss of joint function and the need for joint replacement surgery.
RA typically starts in the small joints of the hands. Joints most commonly affected are the proximal interphalangeal and metacarpophalangeal joints better known as knuckles. RA hand symptoms can include:
- Creaking sounds during movement
- Overextended middle joint and bent fingertip
- Thumb flexing at the MCP joint and hyperextending at the PIP joint
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Other Possible Causes Of Hand Pain
Hand pain is also a sign of Dupuytrens contracture, a condition in which the tissue of the palm and fingers becomes thickened and tight, causing the fingers to curl inward. Its not clear why Dupuytrens contracture develops, though those who smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, and have seizures or diabetes are more vulnerable to developing it.
Your doctor will also consider whether your hand pain could be due to carpal tunnel syndrome, says Dr. Byram. RA can be a cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, so if we see someone who has carpal tunnel, well want to make sure they dont have RA. Carpal tunnel is a condition that occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand the median nerve is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Fingers Swell Like Sausages
Psoriatic arthritis is another form of inflammatory arthritis that can cause painful, swollen joints that are warm to the touch. Psoriatic arthritis, however, is more likely to also cause sausage-like swelling in the fingers and toes .
Also, pain and stiffness in the first knuckle of the finger tends to occur in psoriatic arthritis, as well as osteoarthritis, but rarely seen in RA, says Dr. Lally.
Read more here about psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
Is It Arthritis In My Hand Or Tendonitis
Arthritis and tendonitis can mimic each other, so its important to understand the difference between the two. Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendons in your hand due to an injury or repetitive motion, and the pain can come and go suddenly or last for a few days.
Arthritis, however, is inflammation of the joint due to degenerative joint disease. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common forms are osteoarthritis , when the protective cartilage in the joint breaks down, and rheumatoid arthritis , when immune system attacks the joints. Early symptoms of arthritis include painful hand joints, burning sensation and decreased functionality of the hand and/or wrist.
Arthritis In Hands And Fingers
The process of osteoarthritis is complex. It affects bone, cartilage, soft tissue, and the connective tissue in your joints.
Osteoarthritis wears away the articular cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is the cushioning material between bones. This wearing away can cause swelling and irritation of the synovial lining, which produces the synovial fluid that helps protect and lubricate the joint.
When osteoarthritis affects the joints of your hands or fingers, it can cause:
- joint deformity
The pain can get worse whenever you use your hand for repetitive tasks. For example, typing on a computer keyboard or gripping utensils in the kitchen can cause discomfort. You may also lose strength in your hands. This weakness can make it hard to do everyday tasks, such as opening jars.
Some medication options may help treat hand arthritis. For example, you can take oral pain-relieving medications.
You can also get steroid injections in your joints or splint your hands to give them support. If these options dont work, surgery may help to reduce pain.
Home treatments can also help to reduce the pain and other symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hands and fingers.
Hand and finger exercises can be a noninvasive way to:
- keep your joints flexible
- improve range of motion
- relieve arthritis pain
Hand exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support the hand joints. This can help you perform hand movements with less discomfort.
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Can I Prevent Arthritis
While genetics is a factor in many arthritis diagnoses, there are some ways we can hold off or diminish the impact of arthritis:
Stay active: exercise helps keep your bones and joints healthy.
Eat a healthy diet: vitamins and minerals promote bone health, and great nutrition keeps weight down.
Maintain a healthy weight: obesity is a significant risk factor for arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise helps keep joints healthy.
Avoid repetitive motions that can cause injury or wear and tear. This includes both work and recreational activities. Physical activity is an excellent way to promote joint health, but be sure to do it safely.
If you have a joint injury, include a high-quality physical therapy program in your healing process. This helps build strength, boosts mobility, and can help prevent arthritis down the road.
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When Rheumatoid Arthritis In The Hand Is Serious
Experts estimate 90% of people who have RA have symptoms in at least one hand joint.6,7 While prompt and aggressive treatment can typically prevent the worst outcomes, RA in the hand can be a serious cause for concern if:
- Damage to joint tissues causes bones to become malaligned. This malalignment can result in hand deformities and prevent the hand from functioning normally.
- It prevents a person from being able to care for themselves, particularly if they live alone.
- It leads to severe carpal tunnel syndrome. Advanced carpal tunnel causes numbness and/or tingling and weakness in the thumb and associated fingers, and can result in permanent nerve damage if left untreated.
In any of these cases, consultation with a medical professional is advised.
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How Do You Know If You Have First
Common symptoms include
- aching at the junction of your thumb and wrist
- pain that worsens with use, such as using keys, writing, or opening a jar
- poor ability to function, including weakness of grip
- a bony prominence over the joint, often due to extra bone growth
- pain at rest and/or at night if the arthritis is severe.
Your doctor may suspect osteoarthritis of the first CMC based on your symptoms and physical examination, but an x-ray can confirm the diagnosis.
Tips For Preventing Arthritis
There is no known cure for arthritis. In fact, most treatments for arthritis are aimed at early recognition and prevention. Genetics can increase your likelihood for developing arthritis, as can a strong family history of the disease. Women are also more prone to arthritis than men.
You may try to prevent arthritis and still develop the disease. However, you can take actions to reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight. This can help to fight off OA.
- Dont smoke, or quit smoking. This may reduce your chance of developing RA.
- Try to avoid injury when playing sports or participating in recreational activities.
- If your job requires a lot of pushing, pulling, or lifting of heavy objects, take precautions to avoid injury to your joints.
- If your job calls for a lot of typing, practice good posture. If necessary, get a special keyboard, wrist cushion, or pad.
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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.
Which Joints In The Hand Are Affected
The index and middle fingers and the thumb are the parts of the hand most commonly affected. Many people find that the hand they use most is affected more than the other.
When the fingers are affected, it may be in the joints closest to the fingernails or the ones in the middle of the fingers. Its less common to have osteoarthritis in the large knuckle joints, where the fingers meet the hand.
The joint at the base of the thumb can also be affected by osteoarthritis. And occasionally the wrist joint may be affected.
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Osteoarthritis Of The Hand
Osteoarthritis often affects three main areas of your hand:
- the base of your thumb
- the joints closest to your fingertips
- the middle joints of your fingers
Your fingers may become stiff, painful and swollen and you may develop bumps on your finger joints. Over time, the pain may decrease and eventually disappear altogether, although the bumps and swelling can remain.
Your fingers may bend sideways slightly at your affected joints or you may develop painful cysts on the backs of your fingers.
In some cases, you may also develop a bump at the base of your thumb where it joins your wrist. This can be painful and you may find it difficult to perform some manual tasks, such as writing, opening jars or turning keys.
Page last reviewed: 19 August 2019 Next review due: 19 August 2022
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What You Need To Know
- Arthritis is damage to the cartilage in joints. Shoulder arthritis occurs when the cartilage starts wearing down on the ball and/or socket sides of the shoulder joint.
- Symptoms of shoulder arthritis may include pain in the shoulder joint, stiffness and reduced range of motion.
- There are many nonoperative treatments for shoulder arthritis, including stretches, lifestyle modifications, application of ice or heat, and medication to control the pain.
- Surgical options, such as shoulder replacement, are available to treat shoulder arthritis if nonoperative treatments dont offer the desired relief.
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See A Physical Or Occupational Therapist
Your doctor may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist to help maintain hand function and dexterity and strengthen joints, say experts. Depending on your needs, a therapist may give you exercises to improve range of motion and function in your hand and wrist, recommend the use of splints or braces to help support joints and ease stress, and suggest new ways to do everyday tasks that may help relieve pain and protect your joints.
Here are some arthritis-friendly hand exercises you can do regularly.
Injections For Shoulder Arthritis
There are currently two types of injections that can provide pain relief for shoulder arthritis. The first type is cortisone shots. Typically, cortisone is mixed with a numbing agent that provides immediate pain relief and helps your doctor know if the injection is in the right place. Once the numbing medicine wears off, the joint may be sore until the cortisone kicks in. Its important to ice the shoulder for a day or so after the shot.
Cortisone shots dont damage the shoulder, but most surgeons limit them to no more than a few a year in most cases of arthritis. Cortisone shots may increase the risk of infection if you undergo a total shoulder replacement soon after the shot. If you are considering the surgery, consider avoiding cortisone shots a few months prior.
The other medicine that can help with shoulder arthritis is synthetically manufactured hyaluronic acid. Its a naturally occurring lubricant in the human body. This liquid substance has been injected into arthritic knees for many years. This injection sometimes helps with the pain for up to two years, but it is unusual for it to take all the pain away for an extended period of time.
The current recommendation is not to have shoulder replacement surgery within three months of having a cortisone shot in the shoulder. If you are considering surgery, it is best to avoid cortisone shots until you have discussed it with your doctor.
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