John E. Blank, M.D., Hand Surgery, Tuckahoe OrthopaedicsBy John E. Blank, MD

Arthritis affects millions of individuals in this country and around the world. Let’s take a quick look, then, at some of the most common questions relating to arthritis – and more specifically, arthritis in the hand.

What is Arthritis?

In the most general terms, arthritis is caused by loss of articular cartilage – the cartilage that caps the ends of our bones. There are two main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, and is the most common chronic joint condition. It usually comes on gradually.

In the case of osteoarthritis, the pain in the hand is typically worse when gripping or turning an object. This discomfort often results in the inability to perform otherwise mundane activities, such as sewing or pulling up one’s pants.

As osteoarthritis progresses, it will cause thinning and wearing until the cartilage is gone and bone is rubbing on bone. Thus, changes and deformities can also occur.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can come and go, and are caused by an autoimmune disorder. Although rheumatoid arthritis can involve different parts of the body besides the hands, joints are always affected.

Primary Symptoms of Arthritis in the Hand

Arthritis of the hand is typically accompanied by morning stiffness of the fingers. Slight swelling, as well as pain and weakness in the hand, are additional common symptoms. Although all joints in the hand can become arthritic, swelling/pain can often show up in the last joint between the fingers and base of the thumb. More possible symptoms of arthritis in the hand include:

  • An enlarged base of the thumb, sometimes resulting in deformity
  • Difficulty pinching or bringing the thumb across to the small finger
  • Dropping things

It’s important to note that arthritis in the hand becomes increasingly more common in post -menopausal age and can occur in a wide range of patients. It can also be seen after an injury or fracture in joint space (post-traumatic arthritis).

Common Treatments for Arthritis in the Hand

Although arthritis in the hand can cause serious discomfort for those who are experiencing its affects, the condition is treatable.

You may consider using moist heat in the morning (such as water in the sink or a towel out of the dryer) to help warm your hands up and get them moving. Anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin or Advil, as well as utilizing ice towards the end of the day, are also generally regarded as effective treatments.

If you have specific questions related to arthritis in the hand, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today.


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