Hand & Wrist Arthritis
Hand & wrist arthritis at a glance
- Arthritisis painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Although there are over 100 types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the most common in the hand and wrist.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes joints on both sides of the body (for example, both wrists) to develop chronic redness, swelling, and pain.
- Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease and the most common form of arthritis. Basal joint (thumb) arthritis is the most common type of osteoarthritis in the hand, and is a result of the degeneration of the cartilage near the thumb joint.
- Hand or wrist arthritis symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, stiffness, and difficulty gripping or pinching objects due to decreased strength and range of motion.
- Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medicines, splinting/bracing the thumb, hand or wrist, and corticosteroid injections. Surgery is also a treatment option for severe cases of hand or wrist arthritis. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.
Causes of hand & wrist arthritis
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still being researched, although genetics are thought to play a role. Exposure to bacteria or a virus may also cause the immune system to attack the joints.
Osteoarthritis is often caused by the normal wear-and-tear of aging, but can also be related to obesity, repetitive stress to the joint, and injuries. Additionally, people who have a family history of osteoarthritis or who already have rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of hand & wrist arthritis
Osteoarthritis symptoms include pain and swelling caused by the bones within a joint rubbing together due to lack of cartilage. Other symptoms include soreness and stiffness when moving the hand or wrist after periods of inactivity, and bone enlargement in the finger joints.
While rheumatoid arthritis can affect children and the elderly, it is most commonly seen in middle-aged people, with the majority of sufferers being women. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the hand and wrist include stiffness, pain, and swelling in the joints, which may worsen after periods of inactivity.
Some patients may develop rheumatoid nodules – firm bumps under the skin near the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can develop quickly or occur gradually over several years.
Treatment of hand & wrist arthritis
Treatment for thumb arthritis, hand arthritis or wrist arthritis may include splints, medication and corticosteroid injections. Exercise and hot/cold compresses may also help alleviate symptoms.
If necessary, a health care provider may recommend physical therapy, removing joint fluid, or injecting medication into the affected joint.
Surgery may be necessary for severe joint damage or pain that cannot be controlled by medication.
Additional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis includes medication to relieve pain and suppress the immune system. People with rheumatoid arthritis may be advised to rest their joints during a flare-up, but remain physically active when the inflammation of the joints is lessened.