Hand arthritis is a common condition that affects older adults. Arthritis in the hands is painful and debilitating, and can affect your ability to carry out everyday tasks. Although there is no cure for arthritis, many treatments help manage symptoms, while dexterity aids help people improve their quality of life. In this post, we tell you everything you need to know about living with hand arthritis.
What is Hand Arthritis?
Hand arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the hand. The hand, fingers, and wrist consist of several joints. Each finger alone contains three joints, while the thumb has two. When components in these joints become damaged, it leads to arthritis in the hands and fingers. The condition causes pain, stiffness, and difficulty using the hands.
The two most common types of arthritis in the hands are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Learn more about each of them below.
Osteoarthritis in the Hands
When the cartilage—the flexible tissue that surrounds the bones in a joint—wears away or becomes damaged, it causes hand osteoarthritis. The unprotected bones begin to rub against one another, causing pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs as a result of the natural wear and tear on the joints. As a result, many older adults develop osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Hands
Rheumatoid arthritis affects the thin membrane called synovium that lines and lubricates the joints. This autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium. Over time, the inflammation can thicken the synovium and destroy the surrounding cartilage and bone.
Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the wrist and finger joints. It causes pain, swelling, and loss of movement. Untreated, the inflammation can lead to deformities.
What Causes Arthritis in the Hands?
The cause of arthritis in the hands depends on the type of arthritis you have. Osteoarthritis results from wear and tear to the cartilage. This damage may happen over several years, or it can occur more rapidly due to injury or infection.
Rheumatoid arthritis develops from a faulty immune response. The exact cause of this autoimmune joint disease is unknown, although there is likely a genetic component at play. Environmental factors—such as a viral or bacterial infection—may trigger disease onset.
History of Injury
If you have injured a joint in your hands, then you are at higher risk of arthritis in that joint.
Symptoms of Arthritis in the Hands
The symptoms and signs of arthritis in the hands vary slightly, depending on the type you have. Typically, though, arthritis causes:
- Reduced range of motion in the joints
Symptoms may occur regularly or intermittently. Periods where symptoms get worse are called flare-ups. During periods of remission, symptoms may get much better or disappear completely.
Diagnosing Arthritis in the Hands
To diagnose arthritis, your doctor may perform:
- A physical examination to check for pain, redness, warmth, and swelling in the joints of the hands, fingers, and wrist
- Urine tests
- Blood tests
- Analysis of the fluid in the joints
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRI scans to show up problems in the joints and surrounding tissues
Treatment for Arthritis in the Hands
Arthritis treatments aim to reduce symptoms, improve the function of the joints, and slow down disease progression. Most people require a combination of treatments to manage their symptoms. Some of the best treatments for arthritis in the hands include:
Heat and Cold
A gel cold pack is easy to apply and stays flexible while frozen. ( See Product )
Hot and cold therapies are among the simplest remedies for arthritis in the hands. Cool temperatures reduce swelling and inflammation, while heat alleviates stiffness and pain. Use an ice pack to cool down your joints, or try a heating pad to warm them up.
Try a heat pad for plug-in relaxation whenever you need it. ( See Product )
To reap the benefits of both hot and cold therapy, learn how to perform a technique called contrast therapy.
These arthritis gloves feature breathable material for all day comfort. Try them for yourself. ( See Product )
Providing gentle compression to your aching joints can ease pain and swelling. Compression also improves blood flow, which loosens up stiff joints. For arthritis in the hands and fingers, try these arthritis gloves—they have the added benefit of improving your grip.
Slip on a wrist brace for instant support and pain relief. ( See Product )
Those with arthritis in the wrists can experience relief after wearing this wrist brace. This product is great at providing day-long support for arthritis and a range of injuries.
- Bending the joints
- Flexing the joints
- Finger touching
- Finger sliding
For an easy way to perform these exercises at home, try using tools such as hand exercise balls and finger strengtheners. These will keep your fingers and hands flexible over time.
Hand exercise balls can fit into a purse or bag for on-the-go workouts. ( See Product )
If you want to work fingers individually or as a whole, this finger strengthener will be perfect. ( See Product )
Hand Therapy for Arthritis
See a physical therapist if you’re unsure of how to exercise your hands, or if you would like more information and guidance on the type of hands tools available. The therapist can show you certain techniques to improve your range of motion and strengthen your muscles. They can also recommend splints, braces, and other devices for arthritis in the hands and wrists.
Try a reacher grabber for a boost to your grip and reach. ( See Product )
Aside from the physical discomfort, one of the hardest aspects of arthritis can be the loss of function in the hands. After all, we use our hands to carry out pretty much all of our daily activities. Learning to adapt to a loss of dexterity can be challenging, but many devices can help you compensate for your newly reduced range of motion.
If forks, pens, and other utensils give your fingers a ahrd time, htese padded tube grips will make your life easiter. ( See Product )
For example, a reacher grabber can come in useful for all manner of tasks, foam tube grips are ideal for personal hygiene tools, and adaptive utensils make mealtimes much easier.
For permanent grip support, add adaptive utensils to your silverware drawer. ( See Product )
- Analgesics to reduce pain
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for both pain and inflammation
- Topical creams and ointments to alleviate pain, such as this ultra freeze pain cream
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and suppress immune function
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to treat rheumatoid arthritis
- Biologic response modifiers to modify the immune system response
Some of these medications—such as analgesics, NSAIDS, and topical creams—are available over the counter, while others are by prescription only. Not all medications are suitable for all people, so we recommend that you speak with your doctor before taking any drug for arthritis.
Hand Surgery for Arthritis
Severe arthritis in the hands, or arthritis that doesn’t respond to other treatments, may require surgery. The type of surgery you have will depend on the condition of your joints. Surgical options include:
- Joint repair, to smooth or realign joints
- Joint fusion, to join two smaller joints together to form one rigid one
- Joint replacement, using an artificial joint (this procedure is more common in larger joints such as the hips and knees)
Recovery from surgery can take time. During the recovery period, you may need to wear a cast or brace.
There is no cure for arthritis in the hands, but people may manage their symptoms to maintain their quality of life and prevent complications. Early detection is key, because most treatments work best when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage.
Severe or untreated arthritis may cause complications such as:
- Difficulty carrying out daily tasks
- Twisted and deformed joints
In addition, rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of developing the following:
- A higher-than-normal level of body fat
- Infections, due to reduced immune function
- Carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists
- Heart problems such as blocked arteries
- Lung disease
- Lymphoma, a group of blood cancers
- Sjogren's syndrome, a condition that causes dry eyes and mouth
Preventing Arthritis in the Hands
These is no sure-fire way to prevent arthritis pain in the hands, but the following may reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Support your hand joints to prevent injury when playing sports or engaging in other strenuous or repetitive tasks
- Use a special keyboard and wrist cushion when typing
- Perform hand stretches and exercises on a regular basis to keep the tissues flexible and the synovial fluid flowing
- Try glucosamine supplements, which may support joint health
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet or Mediterranean diet to reduce inflammation in the body
Living with Hand Arthritis
Although there is no cure, many treatments are available for arthritis. Most people can enjoy a good quality of life once they learn how to best manage their symptoms. Some of the most effective ways to do this include using arthritis aids for the hands, performing regular exercises, and taking medications.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of arthritis in your hands or other joints, see your doctor without delay. Early intervention is key to managing symptoms and slowing down disease progression.