An Overview of Finger Osteoarthritis

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Osteoarthritis can strike joints in any part of the body. The fingers and hands are commonly affected, often causing limitations in daily activities that require fine motor finger movements. Like other types, finger osteoarthritis can develop with age or stress on the joints. There are several treatments that can diminish the pain and allow you to have more mobility, helping you to continue to perform daily tasks with ease.

Causes

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by inflammation and wearing away of the cartilage, which is the main component of joints. Osteoarthritis can develop without an obvious reason or as a response to a joint injury.

  • Primary finger osteoarthritis: With this type of osteoarthritis, the cartilage, a tough and flexible tissue that covers the ends of the bones forming a joint, wears away gradually and often becomes inflamed.
  • Secondary finger osteoarthritis: Injury to a joint, such as a sprain or tear, can cause inflammation and damage to cartilage. Joints can also be misaligned as they heal from an injury.

While it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of primary finger osteoarthritis, there are some risk factors, including advancing age, heavier weight, and genetics. Women and Caucasian people are also at higher risk.

Affected Joints

You have several joints in your fingers which connect the bones to each other and move like hinges to allow the flexible movements of your fingers. Any combination of these joints in one or both of your hands can develop osteoarthritis, and some may be more affected than others.

  • MCP joints: The bones in the palm of the hand are called metacarpal bones. Each metacarpal is joined to either your thumb or to one of your fingers with a metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint. Your MCP joints help you bend and straighten your fingers.
  • IP joints: Each of your fingers has three small bones called phalanges. The phalanges in each finger are separated by joints called interphalangeal or IP joints. The IP joint closest to the MCP is called the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint. The joint near the end of the finger is called the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint.

Symptoms

Finger osteoarthritis produces several signs and symptoms. You may experience any combination of the following:

  • Sensation: Pain, soreness, and aching around your finger joints
  • Motor effects: Stiffness, limited range-of-motion, or decreased grip strength
  • Visible signs: Swelling or nodes, which are enlarged, hardened bumps around your joints

With finger osteoarthritis, your pain is most severe when you begin using your hands for a physical activity, diminishing as your activity progresses. The pain and stiffness usually return after you stop using your hands or while you are resting.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of finger osteoarthritis is based on your medical history, a physical examination, and X-rays, or blood tests if necessary.

  • Medical history: Your doctor will want to know if you have other symptoms of pain, other physical complaints, or if you have experienced any injuries that may have caused the condition.
  • Physical exam: Your doctor evaluates your range of motion in the affected finger joints and checks to see if any movements cause or worsen your pain. The appearance of Bouchard's or Heberden's nodes may also help with the diagnosis of finger osteoarthritis.
  • Imaging tests: X-rays may be needed if your doctor thinks that you may have joint damage. This helps establish how much cartilage remains or if the cartilage has worn away, leaving your joint with a painful bone-on-bone condition. X-rays are also helpful when you need advanced treatment, such as surgery.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests are not typically diagnostic of osteoarthritis, but your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC) if you have signs of an inflammatory or autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment and Prevention

Typically, osteoarthritis is not reversible, but treatment can help prevent worsening of the condition. The pain can be managed with treatment, improving your mobility and function. Treatment may include physical or occupational therapy, medication, or surgery, depending on how severe your condition is and how much treatment you can tolerate.

Medication, Therapies, and Modifications

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:

Diet is a controversial topic when it comes to arthritis. Processed foods that are high in trans fats cause inflammation, and avoiding them has been proposed as a possible strategy for managing osteoarthritis. The benefits of avoiding these foods reach far beyond alleviating osteoarthritis.

You may also find it helpful to try splinting or supportive gloves, as well as easy-to-hold tools, which are specially made for individuals with hand osteoarthritis and other gripping issues.

Surgery

When medical treatment and therapy do not produce satisfactory relief, surgery may be beneficial in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Surgical options for finger osteoarthritis include arthrodesis (fusion) or joint replacement, depending on the affected joint.

Prevention

Preventative strategies may be effective in slowing or averting the development of osteoarthritis. Protecting your hands from injuries is definitely a good idea. If you work in a job that requires repetitive hand movements, or if you play sports that put you at risk of hand injuries, you can try to wear protective gloves or to optimize your position in a manner that protects against injury.

A Word From Verywell

Osteoarthritis is a common medical condition. It is not dangerous and is not a sign of other health problems. That said, it can range in severity and may limit your ability to do things that you want to do. There are treatments that can help reduce your pain and discomfort to increase your mobility so that you can continue to enjoy activities that you do with your hands.

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