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Arthritis of the Hand? - Turn to a Hand Surgeon

When Faced with Arthritis of the Hand, Turn to a Hand Surgeon

Arthritis may affect any joint in the body, but it is most visible when it strikes the hands and fingers. If you suffer from arthritis of the hand, you are not alone. More than 40 million Americans are affected by arthritis of the hand--20 million suffer from osteoarthritis, and 2.1 million are diagnosed with the more severe rheumatoid arthritis. If you or someone you know suffers from arthritis of the hand, relief may be found as close as your nearest hand surgeon--a specially trained physician who has dedicated his or her practice to both surgical and non-surgical care and treatment of the hand.

Arthritis of the hand may be both painful and disabling. The most common forms of arthritis in the hand are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cushioning cartilage that covers the bone surfaces at joints begins to wear out. It may be caused by simple "wear and tear" on joints, or it may develop after an injury to a joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the cells that line and normally lubricate the joints. It is a systemic condition, which means that it affects multiple joints, usually on both sides of the body. The joint lining becomes inflamed and swollen. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand offers the following descriptions:

Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis of the Hand

Stiffness, swelling, loss of motion, and pain are symptoms common to both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in the hand. With osteoarthritis, bony nodules may develop at the middle joints of one or more fingers and at the finger tip. Osteoarthritis is very common at the base of the thumb. In rheumatoid arthritis, some joints may be more swollen than others. There is often a sausage-shaped swelling of the finger. In either form, the joints may enlarge and the fingers become crooked.


Your doctor will examine you and ask whether you have similar symptoms in other joints. X-rays will show certain characteristics of arthritis, such as a narrowing of the joint space, the formation of cysts or bony outgrowths and the development of hard areas of bone. If your doctor suspects rheumatoid arthritis, he or she may request blood or other lab tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Arthritis of the Hand

Treatment is designed to relieve pain and restore function. Treatment decisions are based on the type of arthritis you have, its progression and its impact on your life. Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help reduce swelling and relieve pain; prescription medications or steroid injections may be recommended. Your physician may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist because changing the way you do things with your hands may help relieve pain and pressure. Temporary splinting is often very helpful in relieving symptoms.

Osteoarthritis Treatments

If you have osteoarthritis, your physician may recommend a period of rest. You may also be advised to wear finger or wrist splints at night and for selected activities. Surgery is usually not advised unless these treatments fail.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands, medications can help decrease inflammation, relieve pain and retard the progress of the disease. Rest, controlled exercise, and wearing finger or wrist splints may also be part of your treatment program. Several disease-modifying treatments are now available.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, in many cases the active swelling decreases in time and with appropriate medications and therapy. Surgical procedures can often help correct deformities, relieve pain, and improve function. These options include joint replacements, joint fusion and, in some cases, removing damaged bone and swollen joint lining.

Find a Hand Surgeon Near You

To find a hand surgeon in your area, visit the American Society for Surgery of the Hand's public information website and utilize the free "Find a Hand Surgeon" service offered to the general public. Simply visit:

The mission of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand is to advance the science and practice of hand surgery through education, research and advocacy on behalf of patients and practitioners. The field of hand surgery deals with both surgical and non-surgical treatment of conditions and problems that may take place in the hand or upper extremity (from the tip of the hand to the shoulder). Hand surgeons can set fractures, provide appropriate nerve care, treat common problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow, reattach amputated fingers, create fingers for children born with incompletely formed hands, and help people function better in their day-to-day lives through restoring use of their fingers, hands, and arms.