What is hand osteoarthritis?

Hand osteoarthritis can develop in the wrist, knuckles of the fingers, the base of thumb joint and the fingertips.

The condition involves the wearing down of the cartilage on the joint surfaces, which causes the bones to rub together due to the lack of 'cushioning' between them. This rubbing can lead to pain, swelling and stiffness.

What causes hand osteoarthritis?

While the cause of hand osteoarthritis is not yet known, the condition is characterised by wear and tear of the joint. It has been found that hand osteoarthritis may run in families - those in a family with a history of the condition are at a higher risk of developing it younger, and with more severe symptoms.

There are certain risk factors for hand osteoarthritis which are understood including; having a family member with the same condition; being an older person; or having previously injured a joint.

Symptoms of hand osteoarthritis

The most common hand osteoarthritis symptoms are; joint stiffness, which may be more pronounced in the morning; aching when using the hands; a weaker grip; difficulty when moving the fingers; tenderness around the wrist or in the knuckles; and swelling around the wrist or in the knuckles. Bone growths on the fingertip joints (known as Heberden’s nodes) and the knuckles (Bouchard’s nodes) can be a sign of hand osteoarthritis. These hard swellings can make the fingers look out of shape.

Treatment options for hand osteoarthritis

Hand osteoarthritis is usually diagnosed via a physical examination, in which your doctor will check the hand joints closely for signs of the condition. These signs can include; swelling, tenderness, a restricted range of motion, and deformities. An x-ray can be used to assess for reduction in the joint space, which indicates the presence of the condition, and the possibility that there may be bone spurs. In some cases, MRI scans and blood tests may be requested.

Non-surgical treatments and home remedies which can be effective in treating hand osteoarthritis include; splints which are worn to support the affected joint; hot and cold compress, to decrease swelling and pain; squeezing a rubber ball or sponge to maintain the range of motion and strength in the hand and taking painkillers.

Surgery is reserved for cases where non-surgical treatment has been unsuccessful. Depending on the joint affected, options include, removing the joint and using local soft tissues to restore the joint stability and movement, joint replacement with an implant or fusing the joint.

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