How does Arthritis Affect Hands?

Arthritis when affects the hand and other related parts, it is termed as arthritis of the hands. Each hand is made up of over 25 bones. Arthritic problems in the hands are painful often causing visible deformity, impacting grip strength and hand function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the type of arthritis that affects the hand. It is a chronic and an inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, usually in a symmetrical pattern (if one hand has it, the other one will also be affected).

In RA, the joint lining (synovium), normally smooth and shiny, becomes inflamed, painful and swollen. The disease, which lasts over a long period of time, can cause damage to cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments. RA can also cause inflammation in the blood vessels and the outer lining of the heart and lungs.
Rheumatoid arthritis often results in deformities of the hand and the destruction of smaller joints of the body. It frequently develops in the prime of life, affecting more women than men. Because it tends to flare up periodically and then progress variably over time, this disease requires long-term systemic management.

Causes of Arthritis of the Hand

The cause of primary arthritis is not known. However, secondary arthritis is sometimes the long-term result of:

  • joint injuries
  • mechanical trauma, or pre-existing lesions
  • an infection in a joint, resulting in septic arthritis


Symptoms for this kind of arthritis keep varying but a few common characteristics which could be found across patients suffering from this are:

  • stiffness
  • swelling
  • loss of motion in the fingers

With osteoarthritis, the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint at the tip of the finger and the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint at midfinger are most often involved. Osteoarthritis of the hand is characterized by bony nodules in the joints of the fingers:

  • Spindle-shaped (fusiform) swelling of multiple joints, with some more swollen than others.
  • A boggy mass over the back of the hand.
  • Crepitation with movement, indicating the destruction of cartilage.
  • Drift of the fingers away from the direction of the thumb at the MP joint (ulnar drift).
  • Contracture of the fingers at the PIP joints.
  • Swan neck deformity or hyperextension at the PIP joint with flexion at the DIP joint.

Treatment of Arthritis of the Hand

If you are suffering from some form of arthritis of the hand, consult a doctor for tests, diagnosis, and pain management.

  • X-rays of the hand in various positions can help locate the problems within particular joints. Blood studies help identify rheumatoid arthritis
  • Doctors routinely prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or other salicylate drugs such as aspirin for osteoarthritis. Sometimes a joint is splinted temporarily to assist in pain relief
  • Cortisone injections directly to the hand can be very helpful in relieving pain and improving flexibility, and they are sometimes given in addition to the systemic rheumatoid treatment
  • Patients with ulnar drift of the fingers at the MP joint are often fitted with a special splint
  • Wearing the splint can slow the deformation process but not prevent it from occurring