The base of your thumb, your knuckles, second joint and top joint of your fingers are common sites for hand arthritis. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are common types. Treatments include splints/braces, medications, steroid injections and healthy life choices. Surgeries include joint fusion, joint replacement and tendon transfer.
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 it’s a common site for arthritis to happen.
Arthritis of the hand causes pain and swelling, stiffness and deformity. As arthritis progresses, you can’t use your hands to manage everyday tasks as you once could.
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Yes. There are many, but these are some of the more common ones.
The four areas of your hand attacked by arthritis are:
You are more likely to get arthritis in your hands if:
Early symptoms include:
If you've had arthritis in your hand(s) for some time:
Your healthcare provider can make the diagnosis of arthritis of the hand by examining your hand and with X-rays. X-rays show loss of bone cartilage and formation of bone spurs. A blood test for rheumatoid factor and other markers can help determine if the cause is rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment options depend on the type of arthritis, stage of arthritis, how many joints are affected, your age, activity level, the hand affected (if it's your dominant hand) and other existing medical conditions.
Goals of treatment are to:
Treatment options include splinting/bracing, medications, injections, non-drug approaches and surgery.
Splits or braces support and protect the affected joint, reduce deformity, provide joint stability, lessen strain, and promote proper joint alignment. Your healthcare provider, occupational therapist or hand therapist will discuss splinting/bracing options, how and when to wear them and how long to wear them (wearing splints or braces too long can cause your muscles to weaken).
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to reduce your joint pain and swelling and, in the case of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, to prevent joint damage. Your provider may try different drug classes, depending on the severity and type of your arthritis. For osteoarthritis, only acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended for limited use (as needed) for relief of your symptoms. There are currently no medications approved that help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. The drugs listed below are used to treat rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Before taking any over-the-counter medication, make sure you check with your provider, as there are risks and reasons for not using these medications (depending on your other health conditions and/or medications).
Steroids reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Steroids are usually used if medications don’t manage the inflammation or if the inflammation is limited to a few joints. Injections are administered directly into the affected joint. Because steroids can weaken tendons and ligaments, injections are repeated only a few times.
Other management strategies
A complete treatment plan for arthritis of the hand includes these additional approaches:
If nonsurgical treatments no longer provide relief and the cartilage at the ends of your bones has worn away, surgery may be an option. There are several approaches:
You and your surgeon will discuss which surgical approach might be best for your hand considering your age, activity level, the joint(s) affected and the amount of pain and deformity you’re experiencing.
You may need a cast or splint after surgery to protect your hand while it’s healing. Your surgeon may refer you to a hand therapist. Your provider will likely prescribe pain medication to take for a limited amount of time to reduce discomfort.
Complications of hand surgery include:
Recovery time depends on many factors, including the severity of your condition, type of surgery you had, the skill of your surgeon and your compliance with therapy. Most people can return to their activities about three months after joint reconstruction surgery. Your team of caregivers can give you the best estimate of your particular recovery time.
For osteoarthritis, some clinical research trials are underway in the U.S. exploring stem cell treatment. Early findings are encouraging.
Over the past decade, researchers developed many new medications for psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, with more studies underway.
Arthritis can’t 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 manage certain risk factors. Eat nutritious foods to nourish your body and maintain a healthy weight. Having overweight (a body mass index, or BMI, greater than 25) puts more stress on your joints. Don’t smoke. Smoking increases your risk of arthritis.
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.
Supplements are not reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 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.
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