Osteoarthritis of the Hand: Symptoms & Remedies

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition that affects the joints. It is a form of degenerative joint pain. The pain is caused by the gradual wearing down of the joints. As this article will naturally focus more specifically on the hand, we will be looking at the:

  • Wrist
  • Basilar joint between the wrist and thumb
  • PIP joint, or ‘knuckles’
  • DIP joint, or ‘fingertips’

Osteoarthritis in the United Kingdom – Fact Check

  • In the UK, over 10,000,000 people are suffering with an arthritic condition [NHS]
  • Despite that, 51% of women feel there are a nuisance talking about arthritis pain [Arthritis Research UK]
  • Further, 8,000,000 of those are OA conditions making it the most common [NHS]
  • OA most commonly presents itself in people over the age of 40 [NHS]
  • A third of the UK population aged 45+ have sought treatment for OA [Arthritis Research UK]
  • There is no known cure for arthritis at the moment
hand before osteoarthritis

Symptoms of Hand Osteoarthritis

Joint pain

A common and fairly obvious symptom of osteoarthritis. Persistent aches in the joints listed above are an indication that your cartilage has worn down. The degeneration of this cartilage leads to grinding between the relevant bones, producing swelling and tenderness around the joint.

Arthritis Research UK discovered that 51% of women would feel a nuisance to bring up their joint pain. This is a feeling that is no doubt common across both sexes.

It is especially important that you talk about joint pain in the hand, as soon as you believe it to be a persistent problem. While there is currently no cure for wrist arthritis, there are a host of ways through which symptoms such as joint pain, and the ones following, can be both treated and remedied. The progression of osteoarthritis in the hand can be halted with the correct medication or steroids.

Joint stiffness

Joint stiffness is the feeling of immobility when using a joint, usually coupled with a lowered loss of range of motion. Joint stiffness is closely linked with joint pain, and the two symptoms often present themselves as a pair. Accompanying the joint stiffness, you should expect to experience a series of sub-symptoms including:

  • Tenderness to the touch. The skin around the joint may appear red, which leads us on to the next sub-symptom.
  • Inflammation around the joint. This occurs when the thin layer of tissue that lines the joints becomes irritated. You should not expect to experience any heat or redness around the joint.
  • Loss of grip. Due to the deterioration found in the DIP and PIP joints, you may experience an inability to grip onto objects in the same capacity as you used to do.
  • Lack of manouverability. There may be a difficulty to flex the wrist joint, or you may struggle to open and close your fingers without experiencing stiffness.

Numbness in the fingers

 It is entirely possible that you may begin to experience sensations of itching numbness in the thumb, fingers or both. The numbness may be accompanied by a “pins and needles” like tingling, or a mild burning sensation that runs through the fingers. But why does this happen? While these are also common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis of the wrist can inflame the tendons in the wrist and put pressure on the median nerve. Rheumatoid arthritis of the wrist is also a culprit.

As arthritis does already cause symptoms like joint pain and swelling as described above, its worth noting a small list of symptoms that are completely distinctive to carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Symptoms, such as numbness and tingling, are known to extend up the forearm.
  • CTS is known to affect the thumb, index and middle fingers but will symptoms will not present themselves in the pinky unlike hand arthritis.
  • The symptoms may actually be relieved if you begin to shake your hand, whereas, if they are symptoms of hand or wrist arthritis, shaking may only make your arthritis symptoms worse.

For an extensive look at carpal tunnel syndrome, click here to read a carefully compiled FAQ with everything you need to know.

osteoarthritis difficulties

Development of Heberden’s nodes

Heberden’s nodes are bony swelling growths which form on the hands as a direct result of osteoarthritis, and they are perhaps the most obvious of the symptoms because they are so visual to the eye.

The nodes commonly form on the DIP joints, however similar swellings have been recorded on around the PIP joints too and these are called Bouchard nodes.

The soft, protective cartilage that lines the finger joints is there to cushion the gap between the two bones. It works to guard the surfaces of the bones from the general wear and tear that comes with repetitive use, injury and old age.

The process behind the development of Heberden’s nodes can be described like this:

  1. Due to the general wear and tear, the cartilage found in the finger DIP joints will begin to soften and disintegrate over time
  2. This cartilage will eventually become coarse and hard, meaning it is unable to protect the friction between the bones
  3. As the bones rub together they begin to wear away, the destruction of the original bone what we know to be joint pain
  4. As the cartilage continues to disintegrate, new bone grows alongside the existing bone forming nodes around the join
  5. Your fingers may feel stiffer than usual due to the creation of new bone

Heberden’s nodes are often seen as an indication of advanced osteoarthritis, because for them to occur there will have been some quite severe joint damage.

Exercises to help with hand osteoarthritis

While there are medicinal treatment options available to alleviate some of the symptoms highlighted above, it is important to remember that there is no known cure for arthritis at this point in time.

We encourage hand arthritis sufferers to work through this series of hand exercises. Coupled with treatment options, they help to ease the symptoms of pain and stiffness if performed on a regular basis. In fact, early last year we spoke to a variety of specialists and ask them for their thoughts on how to deal with hand and wrist pain caused by arthritis.

These are do-it-yourself exercises that you can try from the comfort of your own home. They are easy to do and they are completely non-invasive, and have been known to help relieve arthritis pain whilst increasing hand manoeuvrability by keeping the ligaments and tendons flexible. Further, the exercises can increase the production of the synovial fluid which lines the cartlidge, reducing joint friction.

They can be incorporated into a daily routine. Many people like to use these as a sort-of morning warm up for the hands, while others prefer to use the exercises as and when their symptoms are causing discomfort.

Thumb bends

  1. Hold your hand out with all of your fingers stretched as straight as possible.
  2. Bending inward, try and stretch your thumb so that you can touch the bottom of your pinky finger. If this proves challenging, then continue with the exercise but just stretch your thumb up as far as you are comfortable with.
  3. Hold your thumb in the inwardly stretched position for up to five seconds, and then release and rest the thumb.
  4. Repeat the thumb bend ten times and then work on the other hand.
thumb bend exercise for osteoarthritis
The goal of exercises like thumb bends is to either regain or sustain a level of function. This is done by working on the range of motion.

Fist balls

  1. Hold your hand out with all of your fingers stretched as straight as possible.
  2. Slowly begin to bend your outstretched fingers inward, curling them towards the palm and into a fist. The thumb stays on the outside of the fist.
  3. Hold the first for up to five seconds, and then release and rest the hand.
  4. Repeat the first ball ten times and then work on the other hand.
fist ball exercise for osteoarthritis
Remember, stretch only until you feel tightness in the fingers. You shouldn’t feel pain and any discomfort should be avoided. This is a way of loosening the tendons and increasing your range of motion.

Finger lifts

  1. Spread your hand out onto a flat surface, palm side down.
  2. Starting on either side of the hand, lift each finger off the table slowly.
  3. Hold each finger upright for five seconds, before lowering it back to the flat surface.
  4. Repeat this process for each finger three times, and then work on the other hand.
finger lifts exercise for osteoarthritis
Fingers lifts help improve the manoeuvrability of your fingers, which can in turn lead to a better grip.

Making an ‘O’

  1. Hold your hand out with all of your fingers stretched as straight as possible.
  2. Together, curve all of your fingers inward until they touch.
  3. Hold the fingers and thumb in the ‘O’ position for five seconds, before relaxing them back to their normal state.
  4. Repeat this process five times on each hand.
making an o exercise for osteoarthritis
Making an ‘O’ can help with tasks like picking up your toothbrush, writing and using eating utensils.

Finger bends

  1. Hold your hand out with all of your fingers stretched as straight as possible.
  2. Bending inward, try and stretch each finger so that it touches your palm. If this proves challenging, then continue with the exercise but just bend your fingers far as you are comfortable with.
  3. Hold each finger in the inwardly stretched position for up to five seconds, and then release and restt.
  4. Repeat the bend a a few times for each finger, and then work on the other hand.
finger bend exercises for osteoarthritis
These finger bends help to strengthen the muscles in the finger, which in turn makes it easier to grip on to general items.

Thumbs up

  1. Place your hand on a flat surface, pinky finger side down with your thumb pointing upwards.
  2. Bending inward, try and curl your fingers into a fist shape by touching your palm and producing a thumbs up.
  3. Hold the fingers in this position for five seconds and then slowly release the hold by straightening the fingers out as far as you can.
  4. Repeat this action a few times for each hand.
thumb exercise for osteoarthritis
This is the ultimate exercise to strengthen your grip, but remember, it shouldn’t be putting you in any pain. Perform the exercise until you feel the tension, hold, and release.

Wrist stretch

  1. Hold your arm outwards with your palm facing to the ground.
  2. With the opposite hand, gently bend the wrist joint by pushing down on the top of the hand. Do this until you begin to feel the stretch in the wrist and underarm.
  3. Hold this for five seconds and then gently release by straightening the wrist joint.
  4. Repeat this ten times for each wrist.
wrist bend exercise for osteoarthritis
Wrist bends and extensions are an essential way to rebuild or maintain core strength in the joint. They are commonly used by people who experience morning stiffness.

If you’re worried about arthritis in your hands, wrists or fingers and want some advice on how to treat the condition and its symptoms, get in touch now to arrange a consultation with Ladan Hajipour. For full contact details, click here.