Osteoarthritis of the Hand

The bones in your hand have a slick, protective covering called “cartilage” on the joint surfaces that touch each other. This cartilage serves as a friction reducer and shock absorber, thereby, helping to extend the life of your joints. “Arthritis” means that your cartilage has begun to thin or crack and may eventually wear away –impairing your strength and dexterity. Painful hand arthritis affects

up to 1 in 4 people. This degeneration has a tendency to affect specific joints, especially those of your index and middle fingers and the base of your thumb.

Your chance of developing arthritis increases with age. Hand arthritis is 2 1/2 times more common in women. Arthritis occurs more often in joints that have been previously injured and in patients who perform repetitive movement of the hands- particularly labor and manufacturing jobs. Other risk factors include obesity and the presence of arthritis in your parents. Contrary to popular opinion, knuckle cracking does not increase your risk of arthritis, regardless of duration or frequency.

Symptoms usually begin slowly and progress into longstanding hand pain that comes and goes. Your symptoms are likely aggravated by activity and relieved by rest. Hard, bony enlargements often develop along the joint lines, especially in women. You may notice morning stiffness that subsides fairly quickly. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice lasting morning stiffness or swelling, as this could be a sign of a different type of arthritis.

The American College of Rheumatology recommends the use of non-drug treatments (like the type provided in this office) for hand osteoarthritis. Patients with thumb osteoarthritis may benefit from a nighttime splint. Topical creams, especially those including “capsaicin” may help relieve symptoms. You may find relief by warming your hands with a hot pack or “paraffin bath” when they feel stiff. Some patients report benefit by taking Glucosamine Sulfate. The mainstay of treatment includes exercises to help improve your mobility and strength.


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