Osteoarthritis is a common condition that can affect any joint in the body. It’s most likely to affect load-bearing joints such as the knees and ankles as well as repetitively used joints including those in the hands and wrists.
What is Osteoarthritis?
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
Symptoms can be worse in the morning, and other triggers can include:
- Cold weather
- Repetitive motion, i.e. painting, lifting heavy objects or using a screwdriver
- Overdoing an activity
The causes of osteoarthritis are not clear. We know it isn’t simply ‘wear and tear’ and that your risk of developing osteoarthritis is influenced by a number of factors
- Age – Osteoarthritis usually starts from the late 40s onwards. This may be due to bodily changes that come with ageing, such as weakening muscles, weight gain, and the body becomes less able to heal itself effectively.
- Gender – For most joints, osteoarthritis is more common and more severe in women, although there are still a high number of cases in men
- Obesity – Being overweight is an important factor in causing osteoarthritis, especially in weight-bearing joints such as the knee and the hip.
- Joint injury – A major injury or operation on a joint may lead to osteoarthritis in that joint later in life. Normal activity and exercise don’t cause osteoarthritis, but very hard, repetitive activity or physically demanding jobs can increase your risk.
Treatments to ease Osteoarthritis Symptoms
To help ease the symptoms of Osteoarthritis, you may find relief by doing the following:
- Cold compresses. Using an ice pack can reduce swelling and ease the pain. You can apply ice for up to 20 minutes several times a day.
- Applying heat can help if your hands are painful and stiff. Heat bags that heat quickly in the microwave are excellent and effective.
- Use splints on your thumb, fingers and wrist for support
- Opt for tools that have padding to ease grip
- Soak hands in warm water
- Gently squeeze a sponge or rubber ball
- Some medication in the form of gel or cream can give relief when rubbed onto sore joints
- Current Arthritic guidelines recommend using paracetamol and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to manage arthritic pain. These types of medication are available over the counter at pharmacies and supermarkets.
You may also benefit from some simple daily exercises to improve your range of motion.
- Knuckle Bends: Bend your middle knuckles as if making a claw with your hands. Then straighten your fingers again.
- Fists: Form a fist with your fingers and then unfurl your fingers. Work slowly to avoid pain.
- Finger Touches: Touch your thumb to each fingertip in turn. If stretching your thumb hurts, don’t force it.
- Wall Walking: Walk your fingers up a wall and then back down.
- Hand therapists can teach joint protection exercises and guide you on modifying activities to help protect your joints
When to seek help for Osteoarthritis
It is essential to see your GP if you start to experience any of the following:
- The pain is getting worse.
- The pain isn’t getting better after treatment at home for two weeks.
- The pain is stopping you from doing everyday activities.
- Your hands are warm and red, as well as swollen and stiff.
- Your hands are stiff and swollen, particularly in the mornings and don’t settle down after half an hour.
- You have ongoing tingling, numbness or weakness in the hands and fingers.
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 the 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.
Joint Fusions – 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 reducing the size of an enlarged joint.
Joint Reconstruction – 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.
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