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Arthritis of the Hand, Fingers, or Thumb

What is Arthritis?

“Arthritis” is not a single disease, but rather a term used to refer to over 100 different conditions that cause joint pain or joint disease. Some of the most common symptoms across most arthritis conditions are:

  • Joint swelling
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion

The types of arthritis that most commonly affect the hands, fingers, or thumbs are:


Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis known as the “wear-and-tear” kind. When a person suffers from osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage that covers the end of their bones begins to tear away, leaving the bones to rub against each other, which in turn causes friction and damage to the bones and the joint.

Osteoarthritis of the Thumb Diagram

When osteoarthritis affects the joint at the base of the thumb, it is commonly known as basal thumb arthritis. Osteoarthritis can also affect the hands and finger joints.

The main symptoms of osteoarthritis in fingers, thumbs, and hands are:

  • Sore or stiff joints
  • Stiffness that goes away after moving the affected joint
  • Pain that gets worse after a period of activity or at the end of the day
  • Limited range of motion for the affected joint
  • Mild swelling
  • Tenderness in finger joints
  • Visible redness in finger joints

There is no known cure for osteoarthritis of the hand, fingers, or thumb, but there are ways to manage its symptoms in the long-term. A hand specialist will be able to work with you in creating an individualized treatment plan to manage your osteoarthritis symptoms. Some of the most common treatment options suggested by specialists are:

  • Physical activity: doing strengthening and range of motion exercises can help improve joint flexibility, reduce joint stiffness, and build muscle around the joints to reduce some of the burden on the affected joints.
  • Medication: taking pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve some osteoarthritis symptoms.
  • Physical therapy: to aid in the learning of proper ways to use the joints, helpful exercises, how to use assistive devices, etc.
  • Assistive devices: items such as canes, walkers, splints, jar openers, or steering wheel grips can help patients avoid the straining of their joints.
  • Surgery: a hand surgeon can perform a procedure to repair or replace severely damaged joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Stages of Rheumatoid ArthritisRheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease which causes the tissue that lines the inside of the joints to thicken, resulting in pain and swelling around the joints. The damage to the joint lining (called the synovium) happens because the body’s immune system mistakenly attacked the joints.

If RA goes untreated, it can end up damaging the elastic tissue that covers the ends of the bones in a joint (called cartilage), as well as the bones themselves, causing the joints to become loose, unstable, painful, and even immobile.

The most common symptoms for early stages of RA are:

  • Joint pain and tenderness.
  • Joint swelling or stiffness.
  • More than one joint is affected.
  • The same joints on both sides of the body are affected.
  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.

RA symptoms tend to come and go. The periods with increased symptoms are called flares, and flares can last for days or months.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints in the hands, wrists, fingers, and thumbs.

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are ways to achieve remission and manage its minimal symptoms. It is important to visit a specialist as soon as possible if you notice any RA signs because damage to the joints cannot be reversed. Most physicians will follow a path of aggressive treatment early on, then working towards achieving remission, and finally maintaining the disease at a low level and managing any remaining symptoms.


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