Osteoarthritis of the hands

What is osteoarthritis of the hand?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. It can affect any joint in the body, including the hands. It occurs most often in the wrist, fingertips (DIP joint), middle knuckle (PIP joint) and basilar joint (connecting the thumb to the wrist).

Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage that cushions the joint sockets wears away, causing the bones to rub against each other, resulting in inflammation, stiffness and pain.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hand?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis are:

  • Pain: localized around the joint or part of the hand, e.g., thumb, wrist, knuckle.
  • Stiffness: this may make it difficult to perform tasks such as using a cell phone or buttoning a shirt.
  • Weakness: the patient may have difficulty gripping or pinching. It may make tasks such as opening jars or turning the key to start the car difficult.
  • Nodules: bony growths that may develop where bones have been rubbing together. Herberden’s nodules develop at the end knuckle (DIP joint), while Bouchard’s nodules develop at the middle knuckle (PIP joint).
  • Bone spur

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that results in pain, stiffness and
pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints.

What causes osteoarthritis in the hand?

Osteoarthritis in the hand occurs due to gradual wear and tear of the joint, which causes the cartilage to wear away. Cartilage is responsible for cushioning the bones and allowing smooth movement. Without it, the bones rub together and movement becomes stiff. The cause of the initial deterioration is unknown.

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Risk factors

More women than men may develop osteoarthritis. Patients born with defective cartilage or malformed joints are also at increased risk. Other risk factors are:

  • Old age
  • Hand injuries
  • Jobs that require a lot of manual labor, e.g., manufacturing jobs
  • Family history of osteoarthritis

What is the treatment?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, which means there is no cure, and it will continue to worsen over time. However, it can be controlled and its symptoms can be treated with several different methods:

  • Pain medication: this is aimed at relieving the symptoms of pain and inflammation.
  • Exercises: easy exercises, such as touching the thumb to the tip of each finger, making a fist and then unfolding the fingers, or moving the fingers up and down a wall, can help maintain flexibility in the hands.
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Splints for finger and wrist support.
  • Use tools designed to help people with arthritis.
  • Surgery: If osteoarthritis does not respond to other treatments, there are surgical options. This could mean fusing the bones on either side of the arthritic joint, limiting movement, but also limiting pain and inflammation. The other option is to reconstruct the joint, transplanting soft tissue from other parts of the body to replace the lost cartilage.