Arthritis in the Hands
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that can affect joints anywhere in the body, and when it is found in the hands it can dramatically impact your life. The cartilage between your joints wears away and when the bones rub together, it can be very painful. It can also cause weakness, inflammation and bone growths.
Since we use our hands for almost all of our essential daily tasks, the pain and stiffness that results from OA can leave you feeling extremely frustrated. Managing osteoarthritis of any kind requires a great deal of trial and error.
Your therapies will most likely be a combination of pain relief, physical therapy, heat, rest, and diet. It’s been my experience that if you mix and match, you can often find a combination that will work for a while before you need to seek out something new. If you start to notice pain, stiffness or weakness in your hands, the first thing you’ll want to do is confirm the diagnosis.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can present similar symptoms, and the treatments vary depending on the underlying root cause. You can start the conversation with your primary doctor, and they will most likely refer you to an orthopedic specialist.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is considered the “wear and tear” type of arthritis because it most often presents when cartilage breaks down over time from aging. Cartilage is the flexible tissue at the end of bones that help them rub together without stiffness or pain.
Most people will experience some kind of osteoarthritis naturally the older they age, and women are diagnosed more often than men. However, it can occur at any age for other reasons. Genetics play a significant role, so if you have a parent or relative with OA the odds of you developing it are increased. Talk to your family. If you learn of a history of osteoarthritis and you’re noticing symptoms, you’ll want to inform your doctor because it helps confirm the diagnosis.
Osteoarthritis can be seen clearly on X-rays so once they know where to look, it’s pretty straightforward. Another cause of osteoarthritis is when you have suffered an injury to your hands or work with them so extensively throughout the workday they are susceptible to overuse. After a trauma or surgery to your hands, scar tissue can form and cause osteoarthritis damage.
If you run the risk of developing OA from your genetic history, be extra careful to not perform activities that overuse your joints as much as possible. Take breaks, use adaptive tools and ask for help if you need it.
Obesity causes osteoarthritis to worsen because your body works harder to support any extra weight. That work is usually in the form of inflammation in your joints. Losing even just a few pounds of weight will significantly relieve your body of OA symptoms especially in your knees, hips, and feet. That being said, overall inflammation is reduced with weight loss, so it can help relieve symptoms in your hands as well.