5 symptoms that may indicate arthritis in the hands

what is the best treatment for arthritis in the hands?

When you feel mild discomfort in your muscles or joints, it’s easy to try to brush it off as a temporary ache that doesn’t require any treatment. While it can be tempting to shrug off every pain as “no big deal” that will go away on its own, it’s also important to take note of symptoms that may be potential indicators of a medical condition, such as arthritis.

Arthritis refers to more than 100 joint-related conditions. It affects more than 53 million adults in the U.S. That adds up to more than 21% of the country’s adult population. While it can develop in nearly any joint of the body, arthritis in the hands is one of the most commonly affected areas.

Everyone should be aware of when their body is trying to tell them something needs attention. Learning about the symptoms of such a common issue as arthritis can help you determine the treatments that have been effective for many other people.

We’ll talk about arthritis symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. Then we’ll cover the most common types of arthritis that can develop in the hands. We’ll also discuss how to test for arthritis in the hands and treatment options that can help.

5 symptoms that could be the first signs of arthritis in the hands

Arthritis in the hands can manifest differently from person to person. It’s often based on the type of arthritis that they have. However, there are common early symptoms that may be the first indicators of an arthritis diagnosis. 

Arthritis usually impacts several specific parts of the hand. It’s often felt in the second and top joints of the fingers, as well as the knuckles and base of the thumb.

Here are five symptoms that may indicate arthritis in the hands:

  • Pain — One of the most prevalent symptoms of any type of arthritis is joint pain. The pain often flares up during or after movement. It’s usually described as a dull pain or burning sensation at the beginning. However, it can turn into a sharper pain as it progresses with time.
  • Stiffness — Inflammation in the joints can cause them to become stiff and difficult to move. This can lead to decreased function. It may be a challenge to complete everyday actions, such as turning a doorknob or opening a water bottle.
  • Swelling — It’s possible for arthritis to cause swelling in both your hand and wrist joints as another result of the inflammation. The swelling can occur when there’s excessive stress placed on the affected joints.
  • Crepitus — If you hear a grating or grinding sound when you move the joints in your hand, or you feel the sensation, it’s known as crepitus. When the damaged surfaces of the joint cartilage rub together, the bone-on-bone movement can cause a sound or unsettling feeling.
  • Weakness — A combination of previous symptoms, such as decreased function and joint pain, often leads to weakness in the hands. You may also feel a “pins-and-needles” sensation. 

Types of arthritis in the hand (and the particular symptoms they can cause)

We’ve already briefly mentioned how different types of arthritis can lead to different types of symptoms. It can be helpful to learn about how each type affects the hand and the individual symptoms that they may lead to. 

  • Osteoarthritis — The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, or OA. It affects more than 32 million adults in the U.S. The hand and wrist joints are the most common places they develop. It’s often referred to as “wear-and-tear” arthritis. It develops gradually over time as the joint cartilage deteriorates. This causes the bones to rub together with movement. Along with crepitus, stiffness and pain, it can also cause bony swellings to develop in the joints, known as Heberden’s nodes.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — Often referred to as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder. When occurring in the hands, it causes the body’s immune system to wrongfully attack the healthy cells in the hand, including the lining of the joint. This leads to joint inflammation, with swelling being one of the most prevalent symptoms. The swollen tissue can affect the surrounding ligaments and tendons, sometimes leading to misalignment and deformities.
  • Psoriatic arthritis — It’s possible to develop arthritis in the hands that stems from psoriasis, a chronic skin condition. Psoriatic arthritis, or PsA, is an autoimmune condition that breaks down the joint, causing significant swelling, especially in the middle joint of the fingers. It also causes dry, red skin patches from the psoriasis to develop on the wrists. Approximately 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

Testing and diagnosis for arthritis in the hands

If you’re feeling consistent pain or discomfort in your joints, one of the first courses of action is to book an appointment with your general physician. You can discuss your symptoms with them and they can evaluate the appearance, function and mobility of the joints in your hand and wrist. They may order lab tests as well as imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI or ultrasound. 

A diagnosis of arthritis in the hands may require arthrocentesis, or joint aspiration, which involves removing synovial fluid from the joint capsule.

Treatment options for arthritis in the hands

Arthritis in the hands can interfere with your ability to carry out everyday hand movements and gestures, from texting on your phone to cooking dinner for your family. That’s why it’s important to not only recognize symptoms of arthritis in your hands and get a diagnosis, but to also determine the best treatment options to manage the symptoms. 

There are a number of treatment options that are worth exploring to alleviate arthritis symptoms in your hands. It’s important to work with a health care professional, such as a general physician or physical therapist, to determine the safest and most effective options for your particular type and severity of arthritis. 

  • Medication — If you’re looking for temporary relief from arthritis pain and stiffness in your hands, ask your doctor about taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, to reduce inflammation that’s contributing to your symptoms. Common NSAIDs for arthritis include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, though it can vary depending on what’s safest for your type of arthritis and medical history.
  • Splint — To reduce stress on the arthritic joints and improve alignment, which may be affected by rheumatoid arthritis, your physician or physical therapist may recommend a brace or splint. It provides additional support and protection for the joints to reduce symptoms throughout your day-to-day routines.
  • Electrical stimulation — A common modality used for arthritis pain management is electrical stimulation. It involves sending mild electrical currents to the affected joints in your hand and wrist. The goal is to relax the stiff muscles and alleviate pain by overriding the pain signals being sent to your brain. This may be more effective for some types of arthritis than others.
  • Exercises — One of the best ways to both alleviate your arthritis pain and improve the overall function of your hand is through targeted exercises. A physical therapist will guide you through safe exercises that will strengthen the muscles surrounding the arthritis joints to improve their support and stability. There are also stretches to decrease stiffness and boost the hand’s mobility. Common hand exercises for arthritis include thumb extensions and finger lifts.
  • Manual therapy — One of the most effective types of manual therapy techniques used for arthritis pain is soft tissue mobilization. It involves a physical therapist using their hands to find the affected tissue and release the tension with massage-like movements.

At Border Therapy Services, we’ll not only help you alleviate the symptoms of arthritis in your hand, but we’ll make a personalized treatment plan to help improve the overall quality of the area for long-term results. With everything from splint recommendation to soft tissue mobilization, we’ll help you reduce the arthritis symptoms in your hand so that you can return to your everyday activities with the best hand function and mobility as possible.

Call us or request an appointment today to reduce the symptoms of arthritis in your hands.