The Truths Behind Hand Arthritis

Symptoms and diagnosis for Hand Arthritis
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By Orthopaedic and Neurology Clinic

What is hand arthritis? 

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the joints between the 29 bones of the wrist, hand, and fingers. Hand arthritis especially can hurt and keep us from being able to do what we want to do. The most common forms of arthritis in the hand are osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis (after an injury), and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. The smooth cartilage that covers the bone surfaces at the joints either is injured or wears over time. 

Arthritis and tendonitis can mimic each other, so it’s 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.

What are some symptoms of hand arthritis?

Women are more likely than men to have arthritis in their hands. In addition, people often experience arthritis symptoms in their hands before other signs of arthritis show up. Therefore different forms of arthritis affect the hands in different ways. The most common form of arthritis, cartilage can wear down in all the joints in the fingers and thumb. Symptoms of arthritis in the hands may include:

  • Pain in some or all of the joints. These include joints of the fingers, wrists, and thumbs
  • The growth of bony knobs on finger joints
  • Numbness in fingers
  • Swollen, red, or warm joints
  • Stiffness in the fingers, especially in the morning in patients 
  • Growth of lumps, or nodules, under the skin of the hands
  • Fingers that look like “swollen sausages”
  • Difficulty with motions that require gripping and twisting, such as opening jars

“Arthritis is not a single disease because it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. “

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What types of diagnosis?

A diagnosis is made based on a physical exam and x-ray. Our Orthopaedic specialist will ask questions about your symptoms, including when they began. Your description of pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitations in joint movement will help our doctor assess your condition.

An x-ray will be taken to further exam the physical damage. It will reveal any cartilage loss, bone spurs, and joint damage. However, what shows up on an x-ray may not necessarily correlate to the amount of pain and/or disability you are experiencing. An early osteoarthritis damage may not be detectable with an x-ray because it is at an early stage.

Based on the physical evidence and x-ray evidence, our doctor will have enough information to detect and accurately diagnose osteoarthritis. There are no blood tests used to diagnose for osteoarthritis. Blood tests would only be ordered to rule out other types of arthritis.

Possible treatment methods?

The treatment of hand arthritis depends entirely on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, or the severity of your condition, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment.

Possible treatment includes:

  • Exercise because it helps to maintain the strength of your muscles and ligaments to stabilize your joints
  • Medicines to reduce pain, swelling and stiffness in Osteoarthritis. Alternatively, injections directly into a joint to relieve pain and swelling
  • Physiotherapy — For exercises to stabilize the joint
  • Surgery — To correct joint deformity or to replace a badly damaged joint

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