Arthritis of the Hand Fingers or Thumb
What is Arthritis of the Hand, Fingers, or Thumb?
Arthritis is not a single disease, but 100+ conditions that cause joint pain or joint disease. It’s commonly categorized into osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (sometimes known as degenerative arthritis) generally refers to changes in joint health due to “wear and tear,” and while it tends to afflict older adults, it can strike young people as well, if they suffer sports or other injuries or if they have misalignments that create stress on joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that can occur at any age when the body mistakes joint tissue as an enemy and marshals its immune system to attack them. Acute flare-ups of RA can not only result in temporary pain and disability but may cause permanent joint damage, so prompt treatment is critical.
Arthritis of the finger joints has many causes, and arthritic finger joints can make it hard to do daily activities due to pain and deformity. Intense pain or progressive deformity from arthritis may signal the need for surgical treatment.
Osteoarthritis affects over half of all people and it is common that most will develop arthritis at some point in their lives, usually with advanced age. This disease is attributed to the degeneration of joints and in the hand, it is typically seen in the wrist, basilar joint which connects your thumb and wrist, fingertips, and the middle knuckles of the fingers.
Pain results when cartilage (which is a part of the body that does not regenerate) thins and wears down. Bone begins to grind against bone without the soft, protective cushion of cartilage and this causes stiffness, inflammation, and pain. In some cases, this constant grinding and inflammation can form bone spurs around the joint. Bone spurs in the hand can be visible when there is overuse and the finger begins to appear misshapen and swollen.
Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear disease and may seem to present a Catch-22: overworking the joints can cause arthritis, yet exercising them can prevent and improve arthritic conditions. The optimal strategy for both avoiding OA and living with OA is proper nutrition for strong bones; slower, gentler movements; and low-impact exercise like swimming, walking, and biking in Houston.
With rheumatoid arthritis, the cause is not totally understood. It involves an abnormal response within the immune system, which factors into the inflammation and joint damage that occurs. There is scientific evidence that genetics, hormones and environmental issues may each play a role.
Sign & Symptoms
Pain is the main indicator of arthritis. Arthritis pain is often the worst at the start of an activity and after the activity completes. The affected joint may swell and be warm to the touch due to inflammation.
With osteoarthritis, common symptoms are sore or stiff joints, stiffness that improves with movement, pain that worsens after activity or at the end of the day, limited range of motion in the affected joints, and mild swelling, tenderness, or redness in finger joints.
With rheumatoid arthritis, the most common symptoms are joint pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness. Often, more than one joint is affected, and the same joints on both sides of the body are affected. RA is sometimes paired with fatigue and loss of appetite. With RA, the fingers often become deformed as the disease progresses, with joints curving toward the pinky finger of each hand (ulnar drift).
Diagnosis & Treatment
While osteoarthritis is not a curable condition, it may progress in an unpredictable fashion and be only a minor nuisance over a lifetime. In the worst cases, it may be crippling. Treatment consists of reducing swelling through NSAIDs and cold therapy, and maintaining joint mobility and strength through physical therapy and home exercise. A Houston hand specialist can work with you on an individualized treatment plan to manage your OA symptoms.
When joints are severely damaged, the HSST surgeons can repair or replace them, often through minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery, with small incisions and rapid recovery time.
Advances in treatment for rheumatoid arthritis have been encouraging over the past decade in particular. If treated early and aggressively with medication, more patients can live active lives with RA, manage flares with minimal medications, and often go into remission for many years at a time.
Recovery and rehabilitation will vary, depending on the type of surgery you had. Your hand will often be bandaged with a bulky dressing and a thumb splint for support after arthroscopic, joint replacement, or ligament reconstructive surgery. A cast may be the most effective option to immobilize the joint for as long as three months.
Physical or occupational therapy may be needed after surgery for up to 8 weeks.