Hand Arthritis

Many people suffer from arthritis of the hand, a condition that can be painful and debilitating. Our hands and wrists are made up of small joints that together help us move in various ways. When these joints are affected by arthritis, fine motor skills can be threatened, making it difficult and frustrating to perform every day tasks such as buttoning a shirt or tying a shoelace.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis occurs when there is a loss of cartilage in a joint. When the cartilage is compromised, the joint essentially loses its “shock absorber,” and mobility becomes difficult. Our body tries to make up for the lost cartilage by producing a fluid in the joint lining called synovium. This fluid tries to act like a cushion, but it also causes swelling in the joints, which restricts motion.

Arthritis can have multiple causes, including osteoarthritis “wear and tear,” or a trauma. Hand arthritis can also be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, a genetic, system-wide inflammatory condition.

Symptoms of Hand Arthritis

Arthritis causes the joints to become inflamed, and patients often suffer from pain, swelling, and loss of movement in their hands. Swelling can become so extreme that the joints may become enlarged or deformed. Some individuals complain of a squeaking sound when moving their hands.

With osteoarthritis, the pain often slowly increases over many months. Activity can worsen the pain, while rest can often help. When joints are rested, stiffness may increase.

Treatment of Hand Arthritis

The treatment varies on your age, activity level, how far along the arthritis has progressed, as well as your medical condition. Your surgeon may recommend non-surgical treatments first. Anti-inflammatory medications or injections may reduce swelling and control pain.

Surgical options may be discussed if previous treatments were unsuccessful in relieving pain and restoring some mobility. The typical surgical procedures performed for hand surgery entail arthroscopy, joint replacements and joint fusions.

Arthrodesis is the joint fusion procedure performed for the joint at the end of the finger. This procedure makes the joint permanently stiff, it does not improve mobility, but it can substantially reduce pain.

Both joint fusion and joint replacements may be options for the joints in the middle of the finger. Joint replacement surgery can provide more mobility, but less stability.

Arthritis in the joint at the base of the thumb (basal joint) may be treated with reconstructive hand surgery that involves replacing the arthritic bone with a cushion of material ,generally a rolled up piece of tendon, that will keep the bones separated. This procedure is commonly known as the anchovy procedure.

During the healing phase, the tendon turns into scar tissue that forms a flexible connection between the bones, similar to a joint. Other options are excisional arthroplasty and implant arthroplasty.

The treatment of hand arthritis will always be tailored to your specific needs. If you are dealing with joint pain in your hands, or know you suffer from hand arthritis and would like to discuss your treatment options, we suggest calling Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle to make an appointment.