Arthritic hands

hand arthritis

Written by Trish Edwards

Arthritic hand problems most commonly arise from osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although both can cause pain and swelling in the joints, RA is an autoimmune disease which can lead to deformity if it isn’t well managed from an early stage. OA is usually caused by previous injury, overuse or general deterioration of the joints with age. Although OA of other joints in the body can be caused by being overweight or due to previous injury, OA of the hands usually runs in families. It affects the whole joint, including the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles around the joint. This blog will focus on OA of the hand and how you can manage it. OA is diagnosed based on symptoms and examination. Xrays are not usually needed as someone who shows signs of derioration on Xrays may be functioning quite well, whereas a person with normal Xrays may have pain.

Common features

  • Pain and stiffness that usually develops slowly over years
  • Inflammation – the joint may be hot and swollen
  • Damage to the cartilage resulting in less cushioning at the bone ends and loss of smooth movement
  • Bony spurs at the edges of the joint, most commonly at the last finger joints towards the tip of the fingers
  • Deterioration of the ligaments and tendons around the joint resulting in less support for the joint and weakness

What can you do?

  1. Keep the joints moving to maintain mobility and prevent stiffness or ’seizing up’ of the joints
  2. Exercise the hand and fingers to improve and maintain strength. This will help to further support and protect your joints
  3. Use a therapeutic wax bath to help give relief from pain, relax muscles and relieve stiffness. This is particularly helpful prior to therapeutic exercise and massage
  4. Use a brace, if indicated, to further support painful and weak joints and also allow you to keep using your hands
  5. Wear arthritis gloves to provide warmth and compression

Don’t ignore your hands. Regular exercise and care can help you maintain mobility, strength and function. Make an appointment with a physio for an assessment and a management plan and prevent hand arthritis from restricting your daily activities.