Osteoarthritis of the Hand

Osteoarthritis of the Hand

How Do I Know if I Have it?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions that affect the aging population. It is by far, the most common disease that affects the joints, causing stiffness and pain.

Although it may affect the joints of the knees and the back, the wrists and the hands are usually affected as well, contributing to the most common cause of disability in older adults.

What Causes Hand Osteoarthritis?

While osteoarthritis of the hand is related to aging, it has been associated with other various modifiable and non-modifiable factors such as lack of exercise, obesity, genetic predisposition, occupational injury, bone density issues, gender, and trauma.

How is Hand Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?

Hand osteoarthritis is currently diagnosed by a physical assessment in a doctor’s clinic, medical history taking, and, where necessary, an imaging such as radiology (x-ray) of the hand, an MRI scan, or arthroscopy. Other tests such as blood exams may be helpful as well including tests for joint fluids.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, but if you think you have hand osteoarthritis, watch out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Stiffness of the joints of the fingers or wrists – Joint stiffness may be experienced by individuals with hand osteoarthritis after a period of inactivity or in the morning.
  • Swelling in one or more joints in the hand inflammation, and swelling may occur after extended activity. This happens due to the excess fluid in the joints that are the result of the immune system’s response to the friction between bones and the bony outgrowths or osteophytes or nodes in the joint space.
  • A sound of bone rubbing against another bone of the hand – hands with osteoarthritis may produce grating or grinding sounds as the bone ends rub against each other
  • Mild but progressing pain of the affected joints – certain individuals feel no pain, but many have reported stiffness and pain that is usually worse at night which affects one or more joints.
  • Progressive and steady enlargement of one or more joints or deformity – characteristic findings in hand osteoarthritis include osteophyte formation (bony outgrowth linked with the degeneration of cartilage), degenerative cyst formation, joint space narrowing and possible subluxation (misalignment) of the thumbs or digits.
  • Difficulty of moving the fingers – fine motor activities become increasingly difficult as the inflammation, pain, and stiffness progress. Individuals with hand osteoarthritis may have trouble chopping vegetables, opening mails, eating finger foods, tying shoelaces, and buttoning clothes.
  • Loss of hand function – functional limitations of the hand may occur due to any of the symptoms or a combination listed above including pain, weak grasp, as well as stiffness during finger movement.


Treatment of hand osteoarthritis is designed to relieve the pain, reduce swelling, and restore hand function. Medications such as analgesics and anti-inflammatories may be of benefit to most individuals. Brief periods of rest and appropriate exercise may help in between arthritis flare-ups. Patients may also use hand, wrist, or finger splints during certain activities or at night. If mild to moderate inflammation is present, heat application such as paraffin baths or warm wax might help. But for severe swelling, cold modalities may be more beneficial.

If you have hand osteoarthritis, the function of the fingers should be maintained as productively as possible, as well as the use of the hand.

Cortisone injections may be used to relieve symptoms but won’t cure arthritis if the primary cause is not addressed. Surgery is indicated when most of the conservative treatments fail. It might be warranted in some cases if there is too much pain on the hand or fingers or there is too little hand function.

At PEGASUS Spine & Joint Institute, the goal is to restore as much function as possible and eradicate or relieve and reduce pain to a tolerable level. The type of treatment for your hand osteoarthritis depends on the severity of the condition, your activities, what particular joints are involved, and your own needs. Our highly-experienced physicians can help you assess, diagnose, and decide which type of treatment is the most appropriate for you.




  • “Hand Osteoarthritis.” Dr Leo M Rozmaryn – Orthopaedic Surgeon Rockville MD | Hand Surgeon. Web. <http://www.leohanddoc.com/pdf/hand-osteoarthritis.pdf>.
  • “Osteoarthritis of the Hands, Fingers and/or Wrists.” MyJointPain | Welcome. Web. <http://www.myjointpain.org.au/assets/uploads/files/Hands%2C%20wrists%20fingers%20OA%20Factsheet(1).pdf>.
  • “Osteoarthritis of the Hands.” Rutland Regional Medical Center. Web. <http://www.rrmc.org/app/files/public/595/pdf-voc%20patient%20ed-Osteoarthritis_of_the_Hand_VOC.pdf>.
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  • “Osteoarthritis.” WHO | World Health Organization. Web. <http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/Ch6_12Osteo.pdf>.
  • “What is Osteoarthritis.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Web. <http://www.niams.nih.gov/sites/default/files/catalog/files/osteoarthritis_ff.pdf>.
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