Osteoarthritis In The Hands

'The Most Common Area To Be Attacked Gets The HelpRelievePain Treatment...'

By Definition – Osteoarthritis is a disease that affects the cartilage in between joints, ultimately causing it to breakdown and result in bone rubbing on bone and agony for the sufferer.

Your hands are a prime target for osteoarthritis, leading to a dedicated treatment plan being needed. In this article we tackle osteoarthritis in the hands…

Osteoarthritis In The Hands

Traditionally, osteoarthritis was considered a condition developed purely through overuse that wore down the cartilage. However, modern thinking now has changed that to be a disease that affects the cartilage.

Given that there are 14 joints in each hand (3 per finger and 2 in each thumb) it is perhaps no surprise that osteoarthritis in the hands is one of the key complaints likely to affect you as you get older.

Given also that our hands are supported by numerous ligaments and tendons (both forms of connective tissue) and that we use them in almost every single activity we do, except sleeping, it is also no surprise how much impact poorly managed osteoarthritis can make to your life.

At HelpRelievePain, we aim to help you do something about that.

According to The Arthritis Foundation, the three most likely areas to get osteoarthritis in the hands are as follows –

  • “The base of the thumb, where the thumb and wrist join (the trapeziometacarpal [TMC] or carpometacarpal [CMC] joint)
  • The joint closest to the fingertip (the distal interphalangeal [DIP] joint)
  • The middle joint of a finger (the proximal interphalangeal [PIP] joint)”

This should come as no surprise since they are the three main joints on each finger (the thumb had just two joints)

About Us

Potential Causes Of Hand Osteoarthritis

  1. Repetitive Injury.
  2. Genes.
  3. Overuse.
  4. Age.
  5. Gender
  6. Bone Deformities.
  7. Have A Hand Injury.
  8. Various Metabolic Diseases. Hemochromatosis and
  9. Occupation.
  10. Paget’s Disease.
  11. Gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

If you’d like to know more about any of these potential causes of osteoarthritis in the hands or other areas, then please check ‘what is osteoarthritis’

Symptoms Affecting Your Hands

  1. Stiff fingers. Wont take long to loosen up, but generally worse in the morning.
  2. Swollen finger Joints. Affected fingers likely to become inflamed and irritated.
  3. Painful Joints. A searing pain when trying to use your fingers.
  4. Bony growths or ‘nodules’ protruding from finger bones. Known as ‘Heberden;s nodes’ if on your fingertip or ‘Bouchard’s nodes’ if they form on the middle joint of your finger.
  5. Finger deformity. If your joints lose cartilage then your fingers may stop pointing straight and may deform to point all over the place.
  6. Pain that gets progressively worse as your day goes on. Especially as it is not easy to rest your hands
  7. A Cracking Sound When You Try To Close Your Hand. Sometimes if the tendons are hurt as well, your fingers can lock in the closed position. This is commonly known as ‘trigger finger’ and can occur alongside osteoarthritis.
  8. Warmth and tenderness in the joint
  9. Mild inflammation around the joints (also known as synovitis). You may not notice this with the human eye from the outside.
  10. An inability to grip things or hold anything heavy.
  11. Joint Instability/ Weakness. You may seem ok to carry something and then suddenly drop it.
  12. Cysts. These form at the ends of the fingers with the DIP joints are affected by osteoarthritis. They may even cause ridges in the nail plate of any affected finger.

Diagnosis Of Osteoarthritis In The Hands.

This is one of the few areas that is not really specific to one body part. Diagnosis will therefore follow the same basic pattern we outlined in ‘what is osteoarthritis’ –

1. A Review Of Your Current Symptoms/ Health.

What are the symptoms?

Where Is the pain?

What Started The Symptoms and What Tends To Trigger Them?

A Full Family History

2. A Physical Examination.

The doctor will seek to examine the full range of motion of any of your affected joints and assess, with your help, just how painful each movement is. They will also be looking for areas of potential joint damage and may want to look further at your neck and spine (for correct alignment), even if they are seemingly not affected at the time.

In trying to reach an accurate diagnosis, it is likely your doctor will looking for –

  • Are your fingers correctly aligned?
  • Does it hurt when they bend your fingers at each different joint?
  • Does your pain get worse during the day?
  • Do your fingers unstiffen within 30 minutes?
  • Do your fingers ‘crunch’ when you grip something?
  • Is there any movement you can no longer do with your hands?
  • Can you still hold a strong grip?

Consideration of your age and gender will then be taken in to account, before the doctor considers which tests may be needed to confirm any suspected diagnosis.

3. Diagnostic Tests.

To confirm osteoarthritis it is likely they will use the following procedures –

X-Ray. To see if your bones are still sitting in the correct position or if the space between them has narrowed – suggesting the destruction of cartilage associated with osteoarthritis of the hands.

MRI. This is the real gold standard, although not always used because it is more expensive. An MRI will be able show an exact image of both the bones, cartilage and tissue of your hands. This makes it easy to spot the potential damage of osteoarthritis and make a clean diagnosis.

Osteoarthritis Treatment For Hands.

As with all forms of arthritis, early diagnosis is key. The quicker you can start treating the symptoms, the less advanced the disease is, the easier it is to stop it advancing further and the better quality of life you will have for longer.


Many doctors now realise that prescribing medications isn’t always the best answer for long-time conditions such as osteoarthritis. Not only do they carry risk of side effects, but for long-term conditions, a tolerance is often built up, leading to larger and larger amounts being needed to produce the same result.

However, it is still common for general pain relieving medications to be used in the early stages prior to diagnosis and again, when the pain spikes, during treatment, but alongside other treatments as well.

Typically, your treatment will follow the same basic path –

  • An over the counter pain reliever such as aspirin/ acetaminophen for temporary pain relief.
  • If that doesn’t work then an NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) may be prescribed or purchased ‘over-the-counter’. These include Ibuprofen or Naproxen.
  • For osteoarthritis in the hands, one ideal option is an NSAID is a topical cream or gel. These have a much reduced side effect profile and can be rubbed directly in to your hands.


  • A common treatment for osteoarthtis in the hands is to have a local steroid injection. Corticosteroids can offer relief for months but are used sparingly as long-term usage will ultimately cause further damage.
  • Viscosupplementation – Hyaluronic acid, a liquid with very similar qualities to synovial joint fluid is injected into your joints. The theory is that is sits like synovial fluid and ‘cushions’ impact on the cartilage. However, due to the extremely small amount of fluid around finger joints, it is only really used in this case around the base of the thumb.


This is relatively rare for fingers – according to the Agency For Healthcare Research, there were less than one thousand finger surgeries in comparison to nearly one million hip and knee replacement.

If you fingers or hands really are agony and nothing else has been able to help, then a final resort is surgery. There are two basic option.

Fusion of joints. Joints in your fingers or hand are fused together, creating a much stronger, but much less flexible hand. This can be great for the pain, but is not that common as much of your hands and wrists are controlled by tendons and joint fusion in your fingers in particular can be rather restrictive.

Joint Replacement. Theoretically possible, but in reality neither your finger joints or your wrist is likely to benefit from replacement, with huge risks still attached to a relatively new procedure.

Natural Treatments.

These are by far the most likely treatments that you will be encouraged to try and many of them are very successful. We list them here with detail and around what they are – and you will be creating a helpful guide as to what to do next if you want to try any of them….coming soon.

1. Reduce The Strain.

The first treatment isn’t so much a treatment as general advice. Give serious thought to what you can do to use your hands, and particularly your fingers, less.

This may involve changing the style of door handles in your house to carrying the weight of your shopping bags on your arms.

2. Hot/ Cold Compression.

Dipping your fingers in a bowl of ice will help to numb the pain and get blood flowing, while following this with a bowl of hot water will loosen your joints, relax the muscles and help keep your fingers and hands mobile.

3. Supports.

You can buy a range of gloves that claim to support your hands. Some are much better than others.

4. Splints.

These can either be applied inside loose gloves or separately to provide much more rigid support for your fingers. The concept really is the splint stops your fingers from bending at all, thus reducing pain.

However, unlike joint fusion surgery, you can always remove the splints if you need increased mobility.

5. Get To Grips.

Review all your common utensils and consider what you can do to make their use easier. Examples includes putting extra large rubber handles over cutlery to make them easier to grip and gripping cups to open jars. You can also now purchase a range of anti-arthritis tools that are very effective.

6. Redesign Your Work Space.

If you spend large amounts of time on a computer, then you might want to consider wrist cushions – not just for your wrists but to relieve some stretching pressure on your fingers.

7. Reconsider Your Work Practice.

Do you work in a quiet office? Do you work from home? If you suffer with osteoarthritis in your fingers, perhaps you could use one of the many dictation programs that take your speech and turn it automatically into text. This will save a lot of painful typing.

8. Anti-Arthritis Gloves.

A few people have expressed that having gloves with copper infused into the lining has helped with their pain levels.

However, the scientific evidence points strongly to these being ineffective at best. Most of the ‘positive reviews’ are from people trying to sell you them or earn an affiliate commission by recommending them. We have a thorough INDEPENDENT review of the concept of arthritis gloves and then what to look or if you do decide to try a pair coming soon.

9. Wear Coats With Zips Not Buttons.

These require less handling to do up and undo. You could add zipper pulls (tabs attached to zips) to make this even easier.

10. Get slip-on Shoes.

Again, shoes with velcro strips or slips-on are easier to slide on and it avoids having to do them up.

11. Capsaicin Cream.

This is a cream made from cayenne pepper that is rubbed in to the affected joint and is said to reduce the pain.

Exercises For Osteoarthritis In The Hands (The Most Effective 9)…

Your hands are made up of many tendons, ligaments and muscles as well as 29 bones. Non-weight bearing exercise can help to keep your tendons/ ligaments mobile, while improving the range of motion and decreasing levels of discomfort.

The final benefit to exercising your hands concerns the production of synovial fluid – this fluid surrounds your joints and increasing the amount can act as a form of ‘cushion’ leading to less crunching of cartilage and bone. In turn, this also means less pain.

Potential Exercises.

  1. Finger Lifts.

  • Lay your hand flat on a table, fingers outstretched and comfortably apart.
  • One at time lift one finger as far as you can comfortably lift it off the table.
  • Hold your finger off the table for 5 seconds and back down.
  • Do with every finger and thumb and then repeat with other hand.
  1. Thumbs Up.

  • Hold out your hand with fingers outstretched as if you were about to shake someone’s hand.
  • Close your four fingers into your palm to make a ‘thumbs up’ sign
  • Hold this thumbs up for five seconds
  • Release to an open palm again.
  1. Make A Wrist.

  • Start by holding out your hand flat with all fingers outstretched
  • Bend your hand into a fist
  • Open your hand back out until your fingers are open again
  1. Finger Bends

  • Start with hand and fingers outstretched, palm facing upwards.
  • Bend your finger inwards until it touches your palm, or closes as much as you can without feeling a lot more pain.
  • Hold it closed for 5 seconds
  • Open your finger to straight position again.
  • Repeat this across all fingers and thumbs – then repeat on the other hand.
  1. Thumb Stretches.

  • Open your hand again out straight.
  • Bend you thumb across your palm, towards your little finger
  • Reach for the base of your little finger with the tip of your thumb (don’t worry if you cant reach it)
  • Again, hold the position for 5 seconds and then return.
  1. Make An ‘O’

  • Begin with an open hand and fingers outstretched
  • Curl hand inwards to make an O
  • Hold position for five seconds
  • Release and do the same with the other hand.
  1. Wall Walking.

  • Imagine your hand is a person (as if you were a child again)
  • Walk your fingers up a wall and back down again, with as much flex in your fingers as possible.
  1. Knuckle Bends

  • Start with an open hand, fingers straight
  • Make a claw with your hand as if your hand was an eagle hand about to grab something (or a scary monster!)
  • Then open your hand again, trying to get as much movement as possible from your middle knuckles
  1. Finger Touches.

  • Start with an open hand and fingers outstretched.
  • Reach across and touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your nearest finger together.
  • Then return to the open hand position and touch the tip of your thumb with the 2nd closest finger and so on until all four fingers and your thumb have touched.
  • Then repeat with your other hand.

The Final Word –

Osteoarthritis in the hands is probably one of the biggest problems that arthritis sufferers face. Not only do your fingers have more joints that could be affected than any other part of your body, but the impact of losing the effective use of your hands is catastrophic.

As with other forms of osteoarthritis, getting an early diagnosis and building up (through trial and error) a ‘basket’ of pharmaceutical and particularly non-pharmaceutical treatments is absolutely key.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, so to live fully and be affected as little as possible by this progressive disease, it is essential to put the brakes on hard and early.

This is even more essential with osetoarthritis in the hands because your surgical options are substantially more restricted than say arthritis in the hip or knee, where you always have the option of a complete joint replacement.

However, by following the exercises laid out above, working with your local doctors on pain relief and making small natural changes as recommended above, you will have every chance of halting it’s progression.

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References –

1. The Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/
2. The Agency For Healthcare Research & Quality. https://www.ahrq.gov/

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