Every day your hands perform hundreds of tasks for you, from eating, grooming and dressing, to typing, writing and opening doors.
We often take our amazing hands for granted --until arthritis pain strikes.
If you suffer from joint pain or arthritis in your hands, you know how debilitating the stiffness and pain can be.
Read on to find out about hand arthritis, and how to relieve the pain.
How common is hand arthritis?
“Knee and hip arthritis can literally knock you off your feet, but hand arthritis is often overlooked because we don’t walk on our hands,” says Jeffrey Katz, MD, professor of Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
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Hand arthritis affects our daily activities around the house, in the kitchen, typing at a keyboard or using any tools that demand manual dexterity.[/caption]
Yet arthritis in the hands is the most common type of arthritis. And since we use our hands and fingers in most activities, swollen fingers and inflamed joints can make daily life very difficult.
Hand arthritis affects our daily activities around the house, in the kitchen, typing at a keyboard or using any tools that demand manual dexterity.
Arthritis can cause you to lose strength in your hands, and this weakness can make it hard to do even the simplest everyday tasks.
Over time, if the arthritis is not treated, the bones that make up the joint can lose their normal shape, limiting motion and leading to disability.
Your amazing hands
Your hands and wrists are made up of many different bones, muscles and ligaments that give you a wide range of daily movements, from gripping and pinching, to turning the lid of a jar to open it .
Here’s a quick overview of the main structures of your hands and wrist:
: Each hand has 19 bones. The palm has 5 bones called metacarpals, and each finger except the thumb has 3 small bones (the thumb has 2). Each bone is connected by a series of ligaments.
The wrist is formed where the two bones of the forearm meet the carpus. The wrist has multiple joints where the bones of the arm and hand meet to allow movement. The carpus is formed from eight small bones referred to as the carpal bones.
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Each hand has 19 bones, as well as joints, ligaments, cartilage and tendons.[/caption]
: Each finger has three joints wherever two or more of these bones meet, the joint at the base of the finger, in the middle of the finger, and closest to the fingertip. Thumbs have two joints.
A layer of cartilage covers the surface of the bones where they meet to form joints. Cartilage allows the bones to glide smoothly against each other as they move.
: Synovial fluid is a thick substance that acts as a shock absorber to lubricate joints.
: The ligaments are tough bands of connective tissue that connect the bones to support them and keep them in place.
: Tendons are bands of connective tissue that attach muscles to bone, enabling the muscles to move the bones.
: Rings of connective tissue, called pulleys, hold the tendons of the fingers close to the bone.
Where does hand arthritis occur?
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Hand arthritis occurs in a few specific spots.[/caption]
Arthritis in the hands occurs most frequently in certain spots
- In the joint at the base of the thumb, where the thumb meets the wrist. You may have bumps or bony knobs located near the site of the arthritis.
- In the joint at the end of the finger closest to the nail. Bumps called Heberden's nodes might show up there.
- In the joint in the middle of the finger. This spot gets bumps called Bouchard's nodes.
This is the most common form of arthritis that affects the hands
. Statistically, women are six times
more likely than men to develop thumb arthritis.
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Arthritis in the thumb can become crippling, partly because we use our thumbs so often each day.[/caption]
Arthritis in the thumb can become crippling, partly because we use our thumbs so often each day. The thumb joint allows us to pinch, pivot, and swivel our thumb for hundreds of tasks every day, such as twisting a doorknob or opening a jar.
Pain at the basal joint of the thumb can lead to a decrease in gripping strength, and limited range of motion.
Signs and symptoms of hand arthritis
In Ortho Info, The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists these symptoms of hand arthritis
: Stiffness and pain in the morning are typical signs of hand arthritis. You might also feel a burning sensation after periods of using your hands, or after heavy gripping or grasping. The pain may not be immediate, and can show up hours later or even the following day.
: When you put more stress on the joint, it can swell as your body attempts to prevent you from using it further.
: The arthritic joint may feel warm to the touch, due to the body's inflammatory response.
Grating or grinding
: You may feel a sensation of grating or grinding in the affected joints, caused by damaged cartilage surfaces rubbing against one another. If arthritis is due to damaged ligaments, the support structures of the joint may be unstable or "loose." In advanced cases, the joint may appear larger than normal from a combination of bone changes, loss of cartilage, and joint swelling.
When arthritis affects the end joints of the fingers, small cysts may develop. The cysts may cause ridging or dents in the nail plate of the affected finger.
Hand exercises and treatments for hand arthritis
Many of the treatments that work for arthritis anywhere in the body can also be very effective for arthritis in your hands.
Many natural remedies are highly effective, such as turmeric supplements, moist heat therapy
, and physical exercise such as yoga
or Qi Gong
Hand exercises are another easy, noninvasive way to keep the joints in your hands flexible and improve your range of motion.
Ask your physical therapist or doctor to recommend some hand exercises. They can help you improve your range of motion and improve your arthritis symptoms.
An article in Healthline suggests these simple exercises for your thumbs
1. Thumb stretch: attempt to touch the tip of your thumb to just under your pinky finger.
2. Hold your thumb stable with your other hand and attempt to bend just the upper part of the thumb.
3. Touch the tips of each of your fingers to the tip of your thumb.
Here are 5 more hands exercises with illustrations: