Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is often responsible for stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the hand. This chronic condition degrades or wears down the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints.

Normal joints have a smooth shiny surface called articular cartilage that allows them to slide smoothly over each other when the bones move. Osteoarthritis damages this articular cartilage and causes loss of motion in the hand, fingers and wrist.

The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIP joints) and distal interphalangeal joints (DIP joints) in the fingers, known as the “knuckles,” the basilar joint at the base of the thumb, and the wrist joints.

Osteoarthritis may also cause bony growths or nodules to develop at the middle joint of the finger (Bouchard’s nodes) or at the end-joints of the fingers (Heberden’s nodes).
Individuals who suffer from osteoarthritis of the hand typically experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Inflammation around the joint
  • Reduced range of motion in affected joint
  • Weakness that makes gripping and pinching objects difficult
  • Feeling of grating or grinding in the affected joint (crepitation)
  • Increased size or visible deformity of the joint

While there is no cure for osteoarthritis of the hand, the hand subspecialists at Lancaster Orthopedic Group can offer a wide range of treatment options to help relieve the pain and restore range of motion. Treatment of hand arthritis will depend on the its severity.

Rest and warm compresses often help to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation. Topical and oral pain medications can temporarily relieve hand pain. Splinting can stabilize and support the joints. For many patients, hand strengthening exercises are an effective option. Surgery is not usually needed to treat hand osteoarthritis, but may be an option for people who have severe hand pain or have lost significant function.