February 10, 2021
Medically reviewed by Dr. Cesar Torres
Your body is full of many complex, interconnected systems. From the top of your head to your fingertips, everything has to work together to keep you breathing, moving, digesting, and, well, living. However, as you age, these systems can start to break down and experience general wear and tear. This is especially evident in your skeletal system. Arthritis is a disease that wears away at your joints and bones as you age. This can cause swelling, discomfort, stiffness, and general pain. And certain areas, like your hands, can be affected more than other areas of the body.
This is a relatively common condition that affects almost 25% of seniors in America. Serious cases and types of arthritis can end up limiting your capability to participate in certain activities and can dramatically impact your quality of life. As you reach retirement age, you don’t want to be held back because of joint pain keeping you from doing the things you love. You want to be able to go on walks, take special trips, and play with your grandchildren. You’ve still got a lot of spunk and energy left in you, don’t let something like arthritis wear away at your spirit. If you are starting to feel symptoms of arthritis or are worried about consistent, nabbing joint pain, it may be time to consult a medical professional to find the best solution for you. Let’s learn a little more about the definition, causes, symptoms, and cures for arthritis as you start your journey dealing with this condition.
Chances are, you’ve heard about arthritis before. Because it is a relatively common chronic disease, there is a lot of research and information available. But just because you’ve heard about arthritis, you may not fully understand the definition and biologics of the condition. Arthritis is generally defined as stiffness or inflammation of the joints. But there is a little more to it than that, especially when looking at arthritis in the hands.
You use your hands so often throughout your life. Whether you are a writer constantly scribbling notes, a chef who needs your hands to create your culinary concoctions, or an artist who paints and sculpts with careful precision, your hands are important to you. From your knuckles to your palms to your wrists, there are about 27 bones and 27 joints in each hand. Each is connected by a layer of cartilage, a slippery tissue that provides a cushion between your bones and joints, which can wear away as time goes on. This can then lead to carpal tunnel or stiffness in your hand function. This general form of arthritis is known as osteoarthritis or may be referred to as osteoporosis.
There is another form of arthritis known as rheumatoid arthritis. This condition has more to do with genetics than general wear and tear. This condition involves a miscommunication within your body where your immune system attacks healthy protective cartilage. This can cause similar symptoms like inflammation, redness, and tenderness. Depending on your genetic history, you may be at higher risk to develop rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis.
Another, though much rarer, type of arthritis in the hands is caused by post-traumatic stress. If you happen to injure your hand in a sports accident or break your wrist, you may experience joint damage and continue to feel sharp pain even after the injury heals. Your joint motion may be limited and you’ll have to deal with the reality of your new mobility. Injury can wear down that all too important cartilage and affect your health for a longer time in that area of the body than you may realize.
Common Causes of Arthritis
There isn’t one distinct cause of arthritis in your hands, especially because every person’s body is different and will react to pain management and connective tissue flare-ups differently. With different types of arthritis, there are different causes of arthritis pain. Osteoarthritis is usually a result of overuse of your hands that wears away at your cartilage. Because it is such a thin layer of soft tissue to begin with, it is easy for a part of the body that is used often to experience discomfort. This is why arthritis in your hands is fairly common.
Signs You May Have Arthritis in your Hands
As you age, you may start to feel some of this joint pain while performing daily activities. There is a fine line between arthritis symptoms and bumps and bruises. Be aware of the specific signs that you may have arthritis of the hand. Beyond typical soreness, arthritis may come with fever symptoms or added fatigue. You may also find your hands feel incredibly stiff in the morning or your pain comes on quickly without cause. Numbness and tingling are also signs that something more serious could be going on. If you see any of these signs, consult a health care provider immediately to see your treatment options for joint stiffness or inflammation.
As with any medical condition, there are specific lists of the symptoms that accompany all types of arthritis. You may not experience all of these when dealing with arthritis of the hand, but they may be a confirmation that you have this chronic condition. Once the symptoms become obvious, you can take steps to find the most effective treatments and to know what type of arthritis you have. Let’s break down the exact symptoms you may encounter with each different case of arthritis from the early stage to a more advanced case.
– Pain while performing everyday tasks
– Pain even while resting your hands
– A decreased range of motion
– Nodules or lumps on your fingers
– Pain specifically around your thumb and wrists
– Inability to grasp and pick things up
– Stiff joints specifically in the morning
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
– Pain specifically in the wrists and knuckles
– Problems straightening your fingers
– Fatigue throughout the whole body
– Fever and body aches
Post-Traumatic Arthritis Symptoms
– Swelling at the sight of your injury
– A broken bone not healing correctly
High Risk Factors
With so many people suffering from the progression of the disease, you may be curious what your own risk factors are. Of course, every person’s body is unique so your joint inflammation or cartilage strength will be different from other patients. However, there are certain risk factors that you should look out for.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is a genetic condition, your family history will play a part in your risk factors. If you have immediate family who suffer from joint pain, there is a chance you may also deal with arthritis as you age.
Speaking of age, that is a big risk factor as well. Getting older is a part of life. And as you age, your body naturally starts to break down in different ways. Your hands are overused and can experience joint injury and pain. It’s simply a part of aging.
One risk factor that you can’t do much to change is your gender. Women are more likely to develop arthritis of the hand. While men may be more likely to come down with gout or arthritis in other parts of the body, women are more likely to experience stiffness and swelling in the hands.
Your lifestyle choices can also affect your risk of getting arthritis. If you use your hands in intricate ways at your job, your cartilage may wear down quicker than someone who doesn’t use their hands often. Also, if you’ve experienced a lot of injury to your hands that may be a sign of arthritis or a risk that your joint lining may be damaged.
Getting a Diagnosis
As you look for treatment options, it can be good to first get an official diagnosis. Oftentimes this will require a conversation with your medical provider where they will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms. Be prepared to answer questions about what pain you are experiencing, how often it occurs, and what you do to soothe the discomfort. Then, you may experience a physical examination or an X-Ray. Doctors will then be able to nail down if you have inflammatory arthritis or a chronic, genetic condition. From there you’ll be able to pursue surgical options, physical therapy, or other treatments.
Having an official diagnosis can be reassuring because you have a starting point to plan your treatments. To get optimal care, consult a professional. They will give you an idea of hand therapy to try or medical approaches for more severe arthritis.
You don’t need a physical therapist to get started with simple grip strength or mobility exercises at home. With small joints in your hands, the key is to go slow and steady. Start by just closing and opening your fist a number of times to remind your joints how to move. You can also do this with your fingers by slowly bending each knuckle to increase mobility and lower pain. Lastly, it can be beneficial to practice raising your fingers off of a surface when your hand is flat. Like any appropriate treatment, take everything at your own pace and stop if you are experiencing extreme pain.
Another form of at-home treatment is simply icing or heating your joints. If you are experiencing soreness, put some ice on your hands to try to soothe the pain. On the other hand, if your type of arthritis manifests as stiffness, you may need some heat to loosen your joints up. You may even need to utilize hot and cold remedies at different times.
Your doctor may also recommend that you wear some sort of a brace to help your joints feel comfortable throughout the day. This can help keep your hands in a comfortable position. It also can serve as a good reminder not to overdo it throughout the day with your everyday activities.
Depending on the severity of your arthritis, you may need different pills or cures that a health care provider can help you find. Sometimes just taking a few ibuprofen can do the trick so you have less pain throughout the day. You may also be able to get specific pills or medications that are designed for patients dealing with arthritis in the hands. If you need a stronger solution, you can talk to your doctor about getting steroid injections or cortisone shots. Biological response modifiers are another option that specifically targets proteins to change your immune system’s response so it eventually learns to stop targeting your joints. This attacks the root of the problem head-on.
If these treatments aren’t yielding the results you need to cure your hand and wrist arthritis, you may want to look into joint replacement surgery. In serious cases of arthritis, your joints can be cured or replaced to alleviate pain. Joint repair involves smoothing over joints and repairing disfigurement to help ease the pain. Joint replacement, on the other hand, actually removes your joint and replaces it with an artificial one. These are extreme cases and treatment options that will help if you are suffering from truly severe arthritis.
While some risk implications make getting arthritis an unavoidable thing, you can take steps to work to prevent this disease activity. The first step to preventing a degenerative joint disease is to just be aware they are. Know the signs of arthritis and the symptoms so you can consult your doctor the moment you think you may be at risk. Together, you will be able to find solutions and take preventative steps before the pain gets out of hand.
Regular activity is another way to help prevent arthritis of the hand. Doing hand exercises can strengthen the muscle and tissue so you won’t be dealing with as much hand pain or problems with your finger joints. Plus, regular exercise and daily activities will help you avoid any loss of function.
A healthy diet and taking care of your overall health will also help with your arthritis risks. Remember, your body is incredibly interconnected. The more you can reduce your sugar intake and only eat healthy fats, the more your joints will thank you in the long run.