Arthritis Hand Photo Gallery

Photos Reveal Arthritic Joint Damage and Deformities

You've probably heard that some types of arthritis can lead to joint deformities.  Hand deformities with rheumatoid arthritis are particularly common, as there are 25 joints which can be susceptible to damage from the disease. But what exactly does this mean? What do these deformities look like and how can they affect the function of your hands and wrists by causing pain and reduced range of motion?

We will take a look at several images that illustrate the effects of arthritis on the hands, but it's important to note that these deformities are becoming much less common with early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of inflammatory arthritis. The combination of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS) and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNF blockers) have given many people the opportunity to prevent these problems. At the current time, it's thought that at least 50 people living with rheumatoid arthritis are in remission.

As you look at these pictures, you can see evidence of some of the descriptions of arthritis that you may hear, such as rheumatoid nodules, swelling, ulnar drift, contractures, and other problems.

As you look at these examples, please keep in mind that everyone is different. The ages and deformities present are not an indication of what the average person can expect, and the degree of symptoms any particular person will experience varies widely. Many of these deformities are also related to disease which was present before the newer treatments for arthritis were approved.

These images will also be used to describe some of the complications as well as treatment decisions faced by those living with arthritis.

48 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
What does it look like when inflammatory arthritis affect the hands?.

Photo: 48-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis for 23 years (left hand). 

This photo shows evidence of damage caused by long-term rheumatoid arthritis which was present before the newer anti-arthritic drugs became widely available. 

In addition to disease-modifying drugs, surgery may be used to correct damage which is interfering with function. The person in this image had carpal tunnel release surgery.

59 Year Old Male With Osteoarthritis

osteoarthritis hands
Joint damage from osteoarthritis Dennis - 59 year old male - hands - osteoarthritis for 35 years.

Photo: a 59-year-old man with osteoarthritis of his hands for 35 years.

Osteoarthritis, like other forms of arthritis, can sometimes result in significant deformities.

This image illustrates the contractures which can occur with long-standing arthritis. Though this man's hand looks like he has had hand surgery, he has not, and contractures can appear as if surgery was performed.

18 Year Old Female with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA)

juvenile rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joint swelling and damage from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis Nicole - 18 year old female - juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for 16 years.

Photo: 18-year-old woman with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) for 16 years.

This image is of the hand of an 18-year-old woman who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 2 (disease present for 16 years). It's important to note that there are several different forms of JRA which can have different symptoms. In general, the prognosis for JRA is more favorable than that of arthritis in adults.

The image here demonstrates significant swelling along with some mild joint deformity. This woman has not had hand surgery.

What the woman's smile in this photo also illustrates is that many people live fulfilling and enjoyable lives even with the symptoms of arthritis.

60 Year Old Male With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis Andre - 60 year old male - rheumatoid arthritis.

Photo: 60-year-old male with joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here shows joint damage related to rheumatoid arthritis as well as scars from hand surgery.

Inflammation of the tendons in the hands (tenosynovitis) can result in a number of problems, such as trigger finger.

35 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joint swelling and damage from rheumatoid arthritis Alison O - 35 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 10 months.

Photo: 35-year-old woman with early rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows common findings in early rheumatoid arthritis affecting the hands. Significant swelling is present but without significant deformity. (This woman has not had hand surgery).

35 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
Hand with joint swelling and damage from rheumatoid arthritis Alison O - 35 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 10 months.

Photo: 35-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image also shows findings consistent with early rheumatoid arthritis. Swelling is present along with early joint damage. (This person has not had hand surgery).

47 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Maggie F. - 47 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 15 years (left hand).

Photo: 47-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows less swelling than in the above pictures of a woman with early rheumatoid arthritis. Rather, there is evidence of joint damage as well as contractures from a long-term disease. (This woman has not had hand surgery).

55 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hand deformity from rheumatoid arthritis Marian - 55 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 28 years (left hand).

Photo: 55-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here shows even more extensive finger and hand deformity with contractures caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The damage is most notable at the metacarpophalangeal joints (MCP joints), the joints at the base of the fingers. (This person has not had hand surgery).

55 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Marian - 55 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 28 years (left hand).

Photo: 55-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here depicts the palmer view of hand deformity and contractures caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Damage is often less evident with this view. (This person has not had hand surgery).

22 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Both Hands)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Julia V. - 22 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 6 years (both hands).

Photo: 22-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here shows a 22-year-old woman who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for 6 years. Swelling is noted as well as the beginning of joint deformity in both of her hands. (This person has not had hand surgery).

22 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Both Hands)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Julia V. - 22 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 6 years (both hands).

Photo: 22-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image gives a better view of early hand and wrist joint deformity related to rheumatoid arthritis. (This person has not had hand surgery).

22 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hand with joint deformity caused by rheumatoid arthritis Julia V. - 22 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 6 years (right hand).

This image allows a closer view of the joint damage in​ a young woman with rheumatoid arthritis, involving both her proximal interphalangeal joints (PCP joints), the middle joint of the fingers, and distal interphalangeal joints (DIP) joints, the most distal joint of the fingers.

Shows hand deformity caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The person has not had hand surgery.

50 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Carol - 50 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 31 years.

Photo: 50-year-old woman with contractures from rheumatoid arthritis.

This image depicts what many people find surprising with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatologists and surgeons focus primarily on joint function rather than cosmetic appearance, and sometimes good function is present with even severe deformities (and vice versa).

Three hand surgeons declined to perform hand surgery because this person had no pain and has good grip strength and hand function.

44 Year Old Male With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Rick E. - 44 year old male - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years.

Photo: 44-year-old man with rheumatoid arthritis.

The small peripheral joints of the hands and wrists become involved with rheumatoid arthritis, leading to contractures and deformities. This image shows the number of different joints which may be affected.

This person has rheumatoid arthritis and had surgery—a wrist synovectomy (removal of inflamed synovial tissue) and tendon transfers involving both hands.

62 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Angela - 62 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for over 25 years.

Photo: 62-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

this image shows the degree of joint damage and deformity which can result from the cartilage loss and bone erosion common to rheumatoid arthritis. This type of damage is much more common with inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) than with osteoarthritis. (This person did not have hand surgery).

52 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Nicki - 52 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years.

Photo: 52-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the hands of a 52-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis who required surgery.  She had surgery on her left hand twice for trigger finger release of her ring finger and had a tenodesis (a surgery that stabilizes a joint by anchoring a tendon to bone) of the left middle finger. In addition, she had nodules removed from both the right and left thumb and had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery.

52 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Nicki - 52 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years.

Photo: 52-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the other hand of the person in the preceding photo. In addition to the surgeries she had on her right hand, she had rheumatoid nodules removed from the right thumb and carpal tunnel surgery on both sides.

38 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis TTM - 38 year old female from Japan - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years (right hand).

Photo: 38-year-old Japanese woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis myths and misconceptions are common in Japan, too. Many people believe it is a disease that affects old people only. There are more than 700,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis in Japan.

This image of her right hand and wrist shows joint deformities and contractures, but she has not had surgery on this hand.

38 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis TTM - 38 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years (left hand).

Photo: 38-year-old Japanese woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the left hand of the same woman above. While her deformities and contractures are more severe (from a visual standpoint) in her right hand, it was only her left wrist which required surgery to maximize function.

50 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Lily - 50 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 5 1/2 years.

Photo: 50-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the small hand joint damage present in a woman diagnosed at the age of 45 with rheumatoid arthritis who is now 50. She has not had hand surgery.

44 Year Old Male With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hand
Hands and joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Rick E - 44 year old male - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years (right hand).

Photo: 44-year-old male with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image reveals some of the damage to thumb and finger joints that are common with rheumatoid arthritis.

44 Year Old Male With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Rick E - 44 year old male - rheumatoid arthritis for 17 years.

Photo: 44-year-old male with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the "other hand" of a man with rheumatoid arthritis. His left hand here is an example of ulnar drift, a common deformity associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Inflammation fo the 4th and 5th metatarsals (hand bones) increase the risk of developing ulnar drift due to the increased mobility of these joints.

7 Year Old Girl With Polyarticular Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

polyarticular JRA hands
Hands with joints damaged by juvenile arthritis Abigail M. - 7 year old girl - polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for 6 1/2 years.

Photo: 7-year-old girl with polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the damage the damage to the hands of a 7-year-old girl who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis by a biopsy at the age of 10 months. The photo shows how her bone in the affected digit is actually larger than her other finger bones.

This child had two separate surgeries to release scar tissue which was causing the contracture.

7 Year Old Girl With Polyarticular Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis finger nodule
Finger nodule from juvenile arthritis Abigail M. - 7 year old girl - polyarticular juvenile arthritis for 6 1/2 years.

Photo: 7-year-old girl with polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the finger with a rheumatoid nodule developed by the same child with JRA. 

61 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with damage from rheumatoid arthritis 61 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for over 30 years - carpal tunnel (left hand).

Photo: 61-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis have varying degrees of joint swelling related to their disease. It can be quite dramatic as in this example. This person has had carpal tunnel surgery on the left hand.

61 Year Old Female with Rheumatoid arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis hands
Hands with damage from rheumatoid arthritis 61 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for over 30 years (right hand).

Photo: 61-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image again shows the joint swelling in this woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

27 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joint swelling and damage from rheumatoid arthritis Jeanette - 27 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for one year (right hand).

Photo: 27-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here again reveals the common joint swelling and damage related to rheumatoid arthritis. This person has had no hand surgery.

49 Year Old Female With Rheumatoid Arthritis

rheumatoid arthritis
Hands with joints damaged by rheumatoid arthritis Deb M - 49 year old female - rheumatoid arthritis for 6 years.

Photo: 47-year-old female with rheumatoid arthritis.

As with many of the images here, this image shows the swelling and joint deformity which is far too common in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is the best way to control the disease and prevent deformity. Pain and stiffness are also associated with rheumatoid arthritis of the hands and must be managed.

A Word From Verywell

Our hands are incredibly important in most everything we do, from holding things to touching things to grabbing things. We use our hands to cook, clean, groom ourselves, play with our children, write, create, and so much more.

Reviewing these images of arthritis is painful, but it is a visible reminder of how we must protect our hands if we have arthritis. Early and aggressive treatment of inflammatory arthritis can make a difference not only in pain and stiffness today, but our ability to do what we love to do with our hands tomorrow. 

If you are living with arthritis, take to your rheumatologist about joint protection techniques. Keep in mind that overuse (even without any pain) is associated with an increased risk of joint deformity.

Talk about the most appropriate treatment options to slow the progression of the disease, and in turn, reduce your risk of joint deformity. Ultrasound is one way to detect smoldering synovitis, otherwise known as "silent destruction" of joints.

Hand surgery can be helpful for some people, and when done appropriately, can improve quality of life. That said, it's important that surgery is focused is improved on improving function alone, rather than focusing on cosmetic results.

Even with the joint damage, many people are able to live very comfortable and productive lives. But being proactive and being your own advocate in getting the best care possible raises your chances of enjoying your future with as little pain and as much mobility as possible.  

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