Arthritis is a disease striking millions of people in the United States. It can occur in any joint in the body. However, the joints of the hands and wrist are common sites, and symptoms of arthritis are often most noticeable and disabling in these areas. Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common forms of arthritis in these areas. Osteoarthritis involves degeneration of cartilage covering joint surfaces. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic problem, usually affecting multiple joints in the body. The cells lining joints become swollen and inflamed, and the swelling often spreads to surrounding ligaments and tendons.
Osteoarthritis of the hand most commonly affects the base of the thumb, the middle joints of fingers, and the fingertip. Osteoarthritis at the base of the thumb can be especially problematic, causing difficulties with daily activities involving grasping and pinching objects. A bony prominence may develop at the affected joint over time.
Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand is most common at the finger knuckles and wrist joints. Symptoms include a creaking sound during movement (crepitus), permanent bending of the fingers caused by swelling of the tendons, a lumpy mass on the back of the hand, and hyperextension of the middle joint of the finger accompanied by bent fingertips (known as a swan’s neck deformity).
Your doctor may order additional diagnostic tests if arthritis of the hands or wrist is suspected. X-rays can confirm the presence of certain characteristic features of arthritis, such as bony outgrowths, deterioration of joints, and hard regions of bone. Blood tests and symptoms in other parts of the body are also important in making a diagnosis.
Treatment of arthritis takes several forms. Osteoarthritis may be treated with rest, splints, cortisone shots, and, if necessary, surgery to fuse or replace the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis treatments include rest, medications, splints, exercises, and surgical procedures similar to those used to treat osteoarthritis. Although there is not currently a cure available for arthritis, a one or several of these options may greatly improve functioning and reduce pain.