What is hand arthritis? Painful fingers, hands and wrists can make the smallest tasks challenging. If you have hand arthritis, how well and quickly you do things—from getting dressed in the morning to opening a jar—can vary depending on if your symptoms are flaring. The pain can range from mild to severe, and arthritis can even change the appearance of your hands. Arthritis in your fingers can cause your joints to become swollen and misshapen, reducing your flexibility. There are several types of arthritis, but the most common ones that affect hands are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that can affect many joints in your body but often starts in the hands and fingers. Osteoarthritis usually affects people as they age; it’s a wear-and-tear type of condition, but there are risk factors. For example, overuse of your thumb can eventually result in basal joint arthritis. The basilar joint is at the base of your thumb where it meets your wrist. Another name for it is basal thumb arthritis. The symptoms of arthritis in your hands usually develop slowly, although you may not notice it at first because your hands may just be stiff or achy from time to time. Left untreated, the joints in your hands can become more damaged and deformed, leaving you with more pain and difficulty moving your hands and fingers. What are the symptoms of hand arthritis? The most common symptoms related to hand arthritis are pain and stiffness in the affected joints. People describe the pain in different ways. For some, it’s a burning or aching pain, while others feel a sharper, more distinct pain. As the disease starts, you may only feel pain when you are actively using your hands, but as the arthritis progresses, you may find the pain is constant. It may even wake you at night. Other common symptoms of hand arthritis are: A grinding, rubbing feeling in the joint A clicking sound in the joint Swelling over the affected joint Redness and a feeling of warmth around the affected joint Deformity Weakness (loss of strength) in the hand or fingers Loss of range of motion in the hand or fingers, such as trouble bending your fingers Cysts on the affected finger While we may expect to feel some aches and pains as we age, it’s best to get an accurate medical diagnosis if you experience persistent pain and suspect arthritis. A checkup with your doctor will help rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, and then you can work together on a treatment plan What causes hand arthritis? Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells rather than just bacteria and other organisms that could make you sick. This reaction can cause inflammation in your joints resulting in swelling and pain. A combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to cause rheumatoid arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis (also an autoimmune disease) is another type of inflammatory arthritis that can affect the hands and fingers. Osteoarthritis occurs most often in weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips, and in joints you use frequently like in your fingers. As the joint repeatedly moves, the cartilage naturally wears down, eventually leaving bone to rub on bone. The most common joints affected in the hand are: Carpometacarpal (CMC) joint at the base of the thumb, where the thumb and wrist come together. This is also known as the basilar joint or trapeziometacarpal (TM) joint. Terms to describe this common form of hand arthritis are thumb arthritis, basal thumb arthritis, TM joint arthritis, and CMC joint arthritis. Distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint closest to the fingertip Proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint at the middle of the finger What are the risk factors for hand arthritis? The most common risk factor for developing hand arthritis is age. As we get older, the cartilage wears down in heavily used joints, causing osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it starts most often between 20 years and 40 years. Other risk factors include: Female gender. Women develop hand and finger arthritis more often than men. Rheumatoid arthritis affects women three times more often than it does men. Trauma. Traumas to the joints, such as fractures, can raise the risk of arthritis developing later in life. This is post-traumatic arthritis. Infections in the joint. Like trauma, infections in the joint can lead to arthritis. Overuse. Overuse or repetitive use of your hands, perhaps due to work or a favorite activity, can lead to osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, arthritis is a disease that we can’t yet prevent, but you might be able to reduce the risk of developing arthritis in your hands by caring properly for any injury to the joints and by avoiding repetitive activities as much as possible. Research has also shown that cigarette smoking can increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit. If you feel at risk for developing hand arthritis, talk with your doctor about steps you can take to minimize the risk. You may be able to modify your activities to reduce stress on your hand. How is hand arthritis treated? Hand arthritis, whether it’s an inflammatory type of arthritis or osteoarthritis, cannot be cured, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and minimizing damage to the joint. Here are some treatments for treating arthritis in your hands: Applying either heat or ice to the joint to provide temporary relief from the pain and swelling Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help reduce pain and swelling Prescription medicine for rheumatoid arthritis and other orthopedic autoimmune diseases affecting the joints to reduce inflammation and provide other benefits Cortisone injection directly into the joint to reduce inflammation Splinting the joint temporarily to prevent painful movement Range-of-motion exercises with your hands to get the joints moving and improve flexibility In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery, particularly if you have basilar joint arthritis. The surgery could be reconstructive (replacing bone with tendon), fusion (fusing the bone together to restrict movement), or joint replacement. What are the potential complications of hand arthritis? Hand arthritis is a chronic disease that progresses. As it progresses, the pain may increase and you may lose the ability to use the affected fingers or your entire hand if several joints are affected. Treatment may slow down its progression and prevent disability. If you undergo any surgical procedures to help relieve hand pain and swelling, there are a few possible complications related to the surgery itself. Potential complications include loss of pinch strength in your fingers and added stress on other joints in your fingers if one is fused. Your doctor can explain all the benefits and risks of one treatment vs. another to help you decide if surgery is right for you.