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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Hand Osteoarthritis (Degenerative Arthritis of the Hand)

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What Are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

Though not everyone who has osteoarthritis has symptoms, many do. Symptoms may include:

  • A grinding, grating feeling or a crunchy sound when joints move (this is also called crepitus)
  • Less range of motion in affected joints
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Mucus cysts forming near the ends of fingers (hand osteoarthritis)
  • Swelling

What Is Hand Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis of the hand occurs more frequently in certain spots:

  • In the joint located at the base of the thumb, where the thumb meets the wrist. You may have bumps or bony knobs located near the site of the arthritis.
  • In the joint at the end of the finger closest to the nail. Bumps called Heberden's nodes might show up there.
  • In the joint in the middle of the finger. This spot gets bumps called Bouchard's nodes.

With osteoarthritis that is located at the base of the thumb, there is often a deep, aching pain. You may have trouble gripping or pinching things with any kind of strength, or opening lids or turning keys.

How Is Osteoarthritis of the Hand Diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoarthritis, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and take a medical history. Some symptoms of arthritis are noticeable, such as swelling, warmth, deformity, and loss of motion. Tests that may be used to diagnose arthritis include:

  • X-rays, which may show changes in bones or the development of bone spurs
  • bone scans, which may show arthritis even before the changes show up on X-rays

How Is Hand Osteoarthritis Treated?

The main goals of osteoarthritis treatment involve reducing or eliminating pain and/or restoring function and mobility. The following nonsurgical treatments may be used:

  • Medications, including anti-inflammatory or analgesic drugs; this treatment might also include injections of pain reliever/steroid combinations.
  • Finger or wrist splints or soft sleeve devices worn during the night or during certain activities
  • Resting the joints
  • Heat treatments such as paraffin baths or cold treatments
  • Topical treatments such as capsaicin cream
  • Performing exercises given by your doctor or occupational therapist
  • Steroid injections into the affected joints

If the pain is too severe, or if movement becomes too limited, surgery may be needed. Types of surgery for treating hand osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint fusion, in which the bones are fused together
  • Joint reconstruction, which involves replacing the joint surface that has deteriorated with a joint implant or with tissue such as tendons

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 25, 2014
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