There are two types of arthritis that commonly affect the fingers. These are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, also called wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most common type of finger arthritis. In people with osteoarthritis, the normal cartilage is steadily worn away, exposing bare bone at the joints. The most frequently affected joints in the hand are the knuckles of the mid-finger and fingertip (the PIP and DIP joints), and the joint at the base of the thumb.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis causes a different type of joint destruction. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that can cause a number of problems. Among these, rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the soft-tissue surrounding joints. The most commonly affected joints in the hand are the knuckles at the base of the fingers (the MCP joints).
Symptoms of finger arthritis include:
- Joint pain
- Loss of motion
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often have the aforementioned symptoms, but can also have more complex deformities of the hands. The fingers may begin to shift from their normal position, and drift away from the thumb.
What are the treatments for finger arthritis?
Early treatments of finger arthritis are focused on managing the symptoms in an effort to avoid surgery. Treatment options include:
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications
These medications can help treat the pain of finger arthritis, and also help decrease inflammation and swelling around the joints.
- Joint Supplements
Joint supplements consist of glucosamine and chondroitin, two of the major building blocks of normal cartilage. These supplements may be helpful for osteoarthritis.
- Cortisone Injections
Cortisone is a more powerful anti-inflammatory medication and can be useful in limited applications in the hand.
- Hand Therapy
Hand therapy, usually performed by an occupational therapist, is helpful to maintain motion and prevent stiffening of the joints.
- Ice & Heat Treatment
Joint stiffness and range of motion can be improved by ice and heat treatments.
Splinting helps to relax and rest the joints. Splinting should be done for limited periods of time to allow for relief without allowing the joint to stiffen.
Eaton C, "Finger Osteoarthritis" E-Hand.com Electronic Textbook of Hand Surgery.