Arthritis of the hand
There are two main types of arthritis of the hand, Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid, Osteoarthritis being the most common.
Found in both men and women, arthritis of the hand usually starts between the ages of 30-50; however, it can begin earlier.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the surfaces of the joints move against each other and where the layer of smooth cartilage no longer has any cushion to protect the ends of the bones.
Unfortunately, arthritis of the hand is painful and can cause considerable discomfort, as well as stiffness in the finger joints, and in severe cases, a loss of mobility in the fingers completely
The technical side to osteoarthritis
Arthritis affects over half of the adult population. A progressive and degenerative condition, osteoarthritis affects approximately 20% of people in their 50’s with this number increasing to almost half of those in their 80’s!
Osteoarthritis, unlike rheumatoid and other conditions, is complicated and involves several factors working together.
For example, the cartilage may experience an increase in wear and tear; friction in the joints may be accelerated. As a result, the surface of the bone may be exposed, and in some cases, bone spurs may appear.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms of osteoarthritis in hand can include:
- Pain in the joints (most common)
- Muscle weakness (due to pain and stiffness experienced in hand)
- Lumps and bumps growing on finger joints
- Numbness in fingers as osteoarthritis spreads
- Swollen and red joints
- Joints may feel warm to touch
- Fingers can become stiff, especially in the morning
Osteoarthritis can affect various parts of the human body; however, most people will experience the symptoms we’ve described in hand and fingers most.
Unfortunately, the specifics of what causes osteoarthritis or how it develops in some people and not others are unknown, however, what we do know is that the smaller finger joints are particularly prone to the breakdown of the cartilage hence are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis occurring.
Can osteoarthritis be prevented?
Unfortunately, no. Not entirely.
However, there are precautions to help reduce the chances of osteoarthritis from occurring and developing at pace.
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight and BMI
- Not smoking, or taking measures to stop
- Avoiding injury where possible, especially when playing sports
- Protecting your joints wherever possible
Osteoarthritis and its effect on the hand
Affecting mainly the small joints of the fingers and the joint at the base of the thumb, we find that most of our patients often become aware of osteoarthritis with the first symptom of general soreness and stiffness developing in the joints.
Often osteoarthritis of the hand is worse in the morning as well as in cold and damp weather. This can often cause a burning sensation or sharp pain in the muscles or tendons around the finger joints.
In some cases, patients may also hear a slight clicking sound when the joint moves.
The growth of bony nodules may appear on the smaller joints of your fingers, adding to the discomfort and stiffness.
At The Manchester Hand Surgeon, we will often refer to these hard-bony enlargements as Heberden’s nodes or Bouchard’s nodes – depending on where they appear.
The good news is, trust us, there is some, that these nodes aren’t necessarily painful.
However, they are uncomfortable, and they can limit the movement of the fingers long-term.
Most patients will notice physical changes in their hands, with slight stiffness and numbness, before they experience any significant pain.
Non-surgical treatment for hand arthritis
In some cases, and if caught early on, osteoarthritis can be treated without surgery, and we work with all of our patients to devise the best course of treatment suitable to your symptoms.
We tailor treatment plans to our patients, where we work with you to offer non-surgical treatments that you may find helpful to control the symptoms for a period and ensure that your arthritis doesn’t worsen.
This may be sufficient and can reduce discomfort and improve the quality of life for a period of time.
Non-surgical treatments can include:
- Applying heat. Applying warmth to the hand or soaking the hand in warm water for even just 5-minutes a day can help to ease stiffness and increase movement, especially first thing in the morning.
- On the flip side, we would also recommend cold treatment. Helping to reduce the symptoms of swelling, ice packs can also help to relieve pain, and we would recommend applying ice packs for five to fifteen minutes at a time.
- Anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help with swelling and pain control. However, you must check with your pharmacist when it comes to possible side effects, and if this would interfere with any other medication, you may be taking.
- Depending on our initial assessments, we may be able to provide the option of a hand splint that can support the wrist and thumb, as well as give specially designed adaptive devices to help assist you with everyday activities.
Surgical Treatments for osteoarthritis of the hand
Before any surgery takes place, our specialist hand surgeons will confirm that osteoarthritis is the problem.
We will explore all avenues of treatment with you, and in some cases, we can prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medications or cortisone injections.
The cortisone injections, in particular, are injected directly into the affected area and can provide relief for approximately two-months before symptoms return.
Main reasons for surgery:
- Relieve pain
- Prevent progressive weakness
- Reduce opportunity of deformity of the hand and fingers
- Provide relief and flexibility to allow you to get on with daily activities
Hand surgery for osteoarthritis involves reconstructing or fusing the affected joints, and as such, two types of surgery can be performed.
Also known as arthrodesis, joint fusion is a surgical procedure where the bones of the joint are fused, helping them to grow together. This procedure can mean you will lose movement in the joint; however, it will create a stronger, more stable, and pain-free knuckle. Removing the awkwardness of a crooked or unstable joint, as well as reduce the size of an enlarged joint.
We typically use joint fusions to treat arthritis pain in the distal interphalangeal joint, where we find a high proportion of our patients showing excellent success, gaining pain-free, stable, and a reasonable level of functionality in the joints.
Also known as arthroplasty, joint reconstruction involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial joint made of pyrolytic carbon. This particular surgery aims to relieve pain and function in the affected finger.
We recommend arthroplasty surgery when a repair to the knuckles at the base of the fingers is required, where flexibility and motion are deemed more crucial.
Our team of specialists can also perform joint reconstruction on those suffering from thumb basal joint arthritis.
Both surgical procedures will require therapy after treatment, and we can’t emphasize this enough to our patients to help ensure the best long-term outcome.
We will recommend a custom splint which must be worn for the first few weeks after surgery, helping to provide additional support while your hand regains its strength (this splint will be made and maintained by our specialist hand therapists).
Length of recovery time does depend on the severity of arthritis, and the surgery carried out; however, we find that many of our hand patients can return to most (if not all) of their regular activities approximately three months after joint reconstruction surgery.
At The Manchester Hand Surgeon, we will provide you with a complete aftercare treatment plan.
Speak to the specialists
If you’re experiencing problems with your hands, fingers, and joints and you believe osteoarthritis may be the cause, call us today to make your initial appointment.
Let us help you, and your hands feel normal again.
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