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Hand Arthritis

Hand arthritis is painful and stiff joints in the fingers or thumb.

What is hand arthritis?

Over time finger and thumb joints experience wear of the joint cartilage, and they don’t glide as well as they used to.  The joints often develop extra bone which you see as lumps around the joints.

What are the symptoms of hand arthritis?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the joints, especially when you move your hands or pick up objects
  • Stiffness in the fingers / thumb
  • Clumsiness or loss of dexterity for fine tasks

What causes hand arthritis?

The direct cause of hand arthritis isn’t always clear. However, the small joints of the hand are the most commonly affected joints in the body from osteoarthritis.  That being said, hand joints with arthritis don’t always cause pain, even if the arthritis is very severe.  There are some common associations:-

  • Your gender – it’s more common in women than men
  • Repetitive hand use and gripping – if your job involves a lot of gripping / repeated hand movements you’re at higher risk
  • Having some other health conditions – such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

How is hand arthritis diagnosed?

Go to see your doctor if you experience the above symptoms. They will ask you about your medical history and will assess your hand movement.  They may be able to make a diagnose based on the shape of the fingers or the thumbs.  Usually x-rays are organised to confirm the diagnosis, and to see how severe it is.

How is hand arthritis treated?

Sometimes pain from arthritis goes away on its own. If the pain gets better, there is no need to have treatment if you are coping ok.  However, if the pain is affecting daily life, your doctor might recommend the following:-

  • Rest
  • A splint for the affected finger, to cut down on movement and help your tendon to rest
  • Over-the-counter medications – such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Steroid injection near or into your joint (the most frequently used treatment)

If the above treatments don’t work, you may need surgery. You will be advised on the surgery that is best for you.  There are lots of different surgeries for thumb and hand arthritis, including joint replacements, bone removal procedures, and joint fusion operations.  Selecting which one is right for you is an important skill of the doctor looking after you, and shared decision making is very important.

Thumb joint replacements have made a huge difference to the recovery time for arthritis of the thumb, and our experts are on hand to talk you through the pros and cons of the new implants.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Rupert Wharton  ›

Mr Rupert Wharton is a Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital, specialising in sports injuries and degenerative conditions of the hand and wrist.

Find your specialist in Hand Arthritis at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have Hand Arthritis and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading hand specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Rupert Wharton  ›
Special interests include:
Trauma & Orthopaedic surgery (+ 10) more

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