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Osteoarthritis of the Hand

Osteoarthritis of the Hand

What is osteoarthritis of the hand?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is wear and tear arthritis, caused by the wearing away of cartilage at the ends of the bones, resulting in the bones rubbing against each other. It is a chronic, degenerative disease characterized by pain, stiffness and loss of motion.

The most commonly affected hand joints are at the base of the thumb where the thumb meets the wrist, and any of the joints in the fingers.

What causes OA?

OA is a disease of aging. Women are twice as likely as men to get arthritis of the hands. Injuries including broken bones, and dislocations raise the risk of getting arthritis.  OA also runs in families.

What are the symptoms of hand arthritis?

Pain, swelling, stiffness, deformity and loss of motion are primary symptoms. When the joints rub against each other, clicking and cracking sounds occur. Firm, boney nodules form on the finger joints causing deformity, but this usually reduces pain and tenderness.

However, OA of the thumb/wrist causes a swelling at the base of the thumb, formation of a bump and deep, aching pain that weakens the grip making it difficult to open a jar or turn a key.

How is arthritis of the hand diagnosed?

Your Ortho Illinois Hand and Wrist physician will check your hands and their function and discuss your symptoms. X-rays will show a loss of normal joint space, bone spurs and other changes.

How is osteoarthritis of the hand treated?

All treatments are designed to relieve pain and restore function. Resting from activities that cause pain can help relieve pain. Wearing a splint will support the joint, and restrict motion temporarily. Heat applied to the joints can soothe pain and help retain function. Exercises are important to retaining as much function possible. Oral anti-inflammatory medications, topical pain medications, and steroid injections into the joint will temporarily relieve pain. This is no cure for OA.

When conservative measures have not helped, surgery can restore as much function as possible, and minimize pain. Surgical procedures include joint fusion, where the damaged cartilage and bone are removed and the bones are fused together with plates or pins. Fusion will eliminate joint movement and relieve pain. Another option is joint reconstruction or replacement.