Arthritis Hands 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 a reduced range of motion?

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An Overview of Rheumatoid Arthritis

We’ve compiled a gallery of 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 (RA) and other forms of inflammatory arthritis.

The combination of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNF blockers) has given many people the opportunity to prevent these problems. At the current time, it’s thought that at least 50% of people living with RA are in remission.

As you look at these pictures, you can see evidence of common arthritis issues, such as rheumatoid nodules, swelling, ulnar drift, contractures, and other problems.

Keep in mind that everyone is different. The ages and deformities present in these photos are not necessarily 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 RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
48-year-old woman 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
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 RA

juvenile rheumatoid arthritis hands
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. 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 person 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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
60-year-old man 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 RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
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 person has not had hand surgery.)

35-Year-Old Female With RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
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 RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
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 person has not had hand surgery.)

55-Year-Old Female With RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
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 RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
55-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here depicts the palmar 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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
22-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

The image here shows a 22-year-old woman who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for six 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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
22-year-old woman 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 RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
22-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image allows a closer view of the joint damage and subsequent hand deformity in​ a young woman with rheumatoid arthritis. The damage involves both her proximal interphalangeal joints (PCP joints)—the middle joints of the fingers, and her distal interphalangeal joints (DIP) joints—the most distal joints of the fingers. (This person has not had hand surgery.)

50-Year-Old Female With RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis
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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis
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 photo also shows an example of the rheumatoid nodules that can occur in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. (This person did not have hand surgery.)

52-Year-Old Female With RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
52-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows the left hand 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 thumbs and had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery.

52-Year-Old Female With RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
52-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

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

38-Year-Old Female With RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
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 older people only. There are more than 700,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis in Japan.

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

38-Year-Old Female With RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
50-year-old woman 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 RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hand
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 RA (Left Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis hands
44-year-old man 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 of the fourth and fifth metatarsals (hand bones) increases the risk of developing ulnar drift due to the increased mobility of these joints.

7-Year-Old Female With Polyarticular JRA

polyarticular JRA hands
7-year-old girl with polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

This image shows 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 Female With Polyarticular JRA

polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis finger nodule
7-year-old girl with polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

These images show the finger with a rheumatoid nodule developed by the same child with JRA. 

61-Year-Old Female With RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
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 RA

rheumatoid arthritis hands
61-year-old woman with rheumatoid arthritis.

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

27-Year-Old Female With RA (Right Hand)

rheumatoid arthritis
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.

47-Year-Old Female With RA

rheumatoid arthritis
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 they are 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 in our ability to do what we love to do with our hands tomorrow.

If you are living with arthritis, talk 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 on improving function alone, rather than on cosmetic results.

Even with 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. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the bones in the hand and wrist called?

    The hand has three different types of bones: 

    • Carpal bones are the eight bones in the wrist. Two are connected to the bones in the forearm, the radius and ulna. 
    • Metacarpal bones are the five bones in the middle of the hand. They connect to the fingers and the wrist.
    • Phalanges are the 14 bones in your fingers and thumb.
  • What are the joints in the hand and wrist called?

    Joints are usually named for the bones they connect. Each finger has three joints:

    • The distal interphalangeal joint (DIP) is the joint closest to the fingertip.
    • The proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP) is the joint in the middle of the finger. 
    • The metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP) is the joint at the base of the finger, where it meets the metacarpal bone. 

    The thumb has two joints: 

    • The interphalangeal joint is at the top of the thumb.
    • The metacarpophalangeal joint is at the base of the thumb.

    The base of the hand has five carpometacarpal joints, where the metacarpal bones meet the carpal bones. 

    The wrist joints include: 

    • Radiocarpal joint is at the base of the wrist where it meet the radius.
    • Ulnocarpal joint is where the wrist meets the ulna. 
    • Distal radioulnar is where the radius and ulna meet
    • Scaphotrapeziotrapezoid joint is at the base of the thumb by the wrist. 
  • What hand joints are affected by RA?

    The proximal interphalangeal (PIP) and metacarpophalangeal joints (MCP) of the hands and wrists are commonly affected by RA. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Anatomy of the hand.

  2. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Joints.

  3. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms.

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