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Arthritis in the hands, most commonly osteoarthritis, feels painful, with stiff and swollen joints. There are many forms of arthritis that can affect the hands, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is more common in older adults and often is thought of a result of wear and tear. Osteoarthritis often affects the thumb — down to the first thumb joint near the wrist — and knuckles of the fingers.
Arthritis is painful because it involves inflammation around the joints as the cartilage on the ends of bones wears away. In the hands, this cartilage allows fingers to move smoothly and makes fine motor skills like tying shoe laces easier to achieve.
Some of the first symptoms of arthritis in the hands can include dull or burning joint pain following period of increased work or other physical activity with the hands. As arthritis worsens in the hands, once simple daily activities such as opening a jar or threading a needle become difficult and painful.
Treating arthritis in the hands tends to focus on relieving symptoms, but emerging treatments include surgery that may provide longer-term relief.
The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Louisville Arm & Hand have the experience and expertise to know when surgery is needed and when physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and other noninvasive treatments can help.
Osteoarthritis can develop because of age and wear and tear, including sports that put stress on the joints. Family history of osteoarthritis also increases risk for the disease. As the cartilage in your joints wears away, the ends of the bones rub on one another without protection. The result is pain, stiffness and eventually, restricted movement.
In the hands, this means stiff fingers and thumbs, frequently starting at the very base of the thumb near the wrist.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks healthy tissue such as the lining of the joints. As the lining swells, the joints become painful and stiff. As the cartilage is destroyed in the joints, the bone itself wears away, and soft tissues in the fingers and hands weaken and stretch causing a deformed appearance. Small joints like those in the hands, wrists and fingers are particularly susceptible to the effects of rheumatoid arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis affects the skin and joints, and its symptoms are very similar to other forms of arthritis. Severe swelling of the fingers and toes is common with psoriatic arthritis.
Possible treatments for arthritis include medication, physical therapy, bracing and therapeutic injections. Steroids or surgery are also possible treatments. Treatment options will consider the stage of your arthritis, type of arthritis and whether your dominant hand is affected.
Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs typically are used to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms. There are no current medications to slow the progress of osteoarthritis. A number of medications are available to slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis.
Steroids taken by mouth, injections or IV reduce inflammation and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Immunosuppressive drugs and certain biologic agents can slow the progression and reduce the damage of rheumatoid arthritis.
Braces, or splints, support the joint and promote proper alignment. Working with your medical provider, you’ll find the right balance of when and how often to wear a brace, and when wearing a brace too much can cause your muscles to atrophy.
When nonsurgical approaches don’t provide the relief you need, arthritis in the hands can be treated surgically by fusing joints together to reduce pain, but limit mobility. Joint replacement, especially of the base of the thumb, uses artificial materials such as metal or ceramics to replace the damaged bone, but can’t restore normal movement.
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