Arthritis of the Hand

The hands and wrist consist of multiple small joints that enable a range of motion. Arthritis in these joints causes hand deformities and more pain, limits movement and can make certain activities impossible. Symptoms of hand arthritis include pain that worsens with use and is relieved by rest, swelling that may occur during or several hours after heavy use of affected joints and warmth in the joints affected by arthritis. Treatments for arthritis of the hand and wrist include:

  • Medications – the most common medications for arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen and ibuprofen. Medications treat symptoms but cannot restore joint cartilage or repair joint damage. NSAIDs prevent the body from producing chemicals that cause joint swelling and pain. Other medications include glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
  • Splinting – wearing a splint can help limit motion and reduce pain in arthritic joints. Splinting can support the affected joint to ease the stress caused by frequent use and activities.
  • Activity modification – daily hand exercises can improve the fingers' and thumbs' range of motion to improve hand strength and mobility.
  • Injections – when anti-inflammatory medications fail to treat arthritic symptoms, injections–typically containing anesthetic and steroids–may provide longer-lasting pain relief for weeks or months.
  • Ice/heat – using heat or cold compress is the oldest, most inexpensive and safest way to treat symptoms of arthritic joints. Warming up sore joints encourages better circulation, allowing more blood, oxygen and nutrients to flow to the injured tissues to relax stiff muscles and joints. Cold treatments decrease inflammation and reduce blood flow.
  • Surgery – when conservative treatments fail to relieve arthritic pain, surgery may be considered. Surgery aims to preserve or reconstruct the affected joint, but if the damage is irreversible, a joint replacement or a fusion (arthrodesis) is the preferred option.