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Hand osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis of the hand)

What is hand osteoarthritis?

The wear-and-tear of osteoarthritis can affect most joints in the body, including the hand.

Osteoarthritis of the hand is more common in certain places:

  • In the joint located 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.
  • In the wrist.

With osteoarthritis that is located at the base of the thumb, there is often a deep aching pain. You may have trouble gripping or pinching things with any kind of strength, or opening lids or turning keys.

How is osteoarthritis of the hand diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and take a medical history. Some symptoms of arthritis are noticeable such as swelling or warmth. Tests that may be used to diagnose arthritis include:

  • X-rays, which may show changes in bones or the development of bone spurs
  • Bone scans, which may show arthritis even before the changes show up on X-rays
  • Arthroscopy (this test, which looks inside the joint, is invasive and is not likely to be used routinely)
  • MRI scans, which can show great detail of the different tissues in the joints

How is osteoarthritis of the hand treated?

The main goals of osteoarthritis treatment involve reducing or eliminating pain and/or restoring function and mobility. The following non-surgical treatments may be used:

  • Giving medicines including anti-inflammatory or analgesic drugs. This treatment might also include injections of painkiller/steroid combinations.
  • Using finger or wrist splints or soft sleeve devices during the night or during certain activities.
  • Resting the joints.
  • Using heat treatments such as paraffin baths or cold treatments when swelling is severe.
  • Performing exercises advised by your doctor or physiotherapist.

If the pain is too severe or if movement becomes too limited, surgery may be needed. Types of surgery for treating hand osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint fusion, in which the bones are fused together after arthritic bone is removed.
  • Joint reconstruction, which involves replacing the joint surface that has deteriorated with a joint implant or with tissue such as tendons.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 25, 2016

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