Causes and Symptoms of Hand Arthritis

Posted on 05-22-2024 in Hand, arthritis & hand arthritis by Dr. Alex Coleman, Dr. Steven Kronlage, Dr. James Piorkowski

According to the National Arthritis Foundation, 53 million Americans are impacted by arthritis, making it the leading cause of disability in the country. By 2030, the organization expects that number to rise to 67 million adults and children. To bring attention to this debilitating disease, we join the Foundation in recognizing National Arthritis Awareness Month during May. To kick things off, our latest blog post below highlights the causes and symptoms of Hand Arthritis.

In general, arthritis can have more than one cause and come in more than 100 forms, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. However, the disease is divided into three major categories, which include:

  • Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis, typically caused by "wear and tear" over time on the joints. It can range in severity and be passed down through genetics. Degeneration of the joints in the hand typically occurs at the base of the thumb or joints in the fingertips or the middle of the fingers.
  • Inflammatory Arthritis: Results from excessive inflammatory response inside a joint, often the result of an overactive immune system, certain diseases (such as Rheumatoid Arthritis) or the buildup of crystals in the joint (such as gout or pseudogout).
  • Post-Traumatic Arthritis: As the name implies, this type is associated with a traumatic physical injury, which can develop over a long period from the initial injury. The severity of this form depends on the type of injury, how much time has passed and if proper therapy was provided during recovery. 

When hand arthritis occurs in the absence of trauma, the onset of symptoms is typically gradual, and the cartilage breaks down over a long time. While symptoms can vary based on the type of arthritis, in the early stages, most patients experience a combination of the following:

  • Pain: A dull or burning sensation that often occurs after periods of increased joint use, such as heavy gripping or grasping. The pain may not be present immediately; it may occur hours after using the hand or even the next day. Many patients experience pain and stiffness in the morning and find that pain in the arthritic joint increases when the weather is cold and/or rainy.
  • Swelling: When the affected joint is subject to more significant stress than it can bear, it may swell. Swelling may occur during or several hours after heavy use of the joint.
  • Warmth: The arthritic joint may feel warm to the touch. This is due to the body's inflammatory response.
  • Looseness: There may be a sensation or sound of grating or grinding in the affected joint due to damaged cartilage surfaces rubbing against one another. If arthritis is due to damaged ligaments, the support structures of the joint may be unstable or loose. In advanced cases, the joint may appear larger than usual due to a combination of bone changes, loss of cartilage and joint swelling.

When arthritis occurs as a result of trauma, such as a fracture or dislocation, the joint is more likely to become arthritic over time, even if properly treated. The trauma itself might damage the cartilage at the time of injury, or a fracture may heal out of position, leading to an uneven joint surface or an abnormal angle at the joint, causing the gradual development of arthritis.

If you currently suffer from hand arthritis, our fellowship-trained physicians are available to help diagnose your condition and develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Dr. Alex Coleman, Dr. Steven Kronlage and Dr. James Piorkowski work closely with patients to diagnose and treat this and other debilitating conditions of the hand and upper extremities. Please contact our office at 850-807-4200 or complete our online Appointment Request form to schedule a visit with one of our Hand Center physicians.

For additional insight into arthritis, check out our other articles on What You Should Know About Wrist Arthritis, Treatment Options for Thumb Arthritis, Diagnosing & Managing Arthritis, Arthritis Treatments, Arthritis & Hyaluronic Acid, Treating Ankle Arthritis and Symptoms of Ankle Arthritis.

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