Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

Overview and Facts about Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

Arthritis is an orthopedic condition characterized by inflammation in joint cartilage and in the tissues surrounding the joints. Normally, the cartilage within your hand, thumb, and wrist acts as a cushion to make movement in these areas more comfortable. Inflammation caused by arthritis damages this cartilage, interfering with hand, thumb and wrist movement. Although common in individuals over the age of 60, arthritis of the hand, thumb, and wrist can affect individuals at any age.

Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

The most common signs and symptoms are pain, swelling and stiffness in the hand, at the base of the thumb and in the wrist joints. Cartilage damage in the hand, thumb, and wrist due to arthritis can hinder a person’s ability to perform certain tasks, such as writing, housework, opening doors, and lifting.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the hand, thumb and wrist joints
  • Decreased strength when moving or lifting objects of any weight
  • Decreased ability to move or a limited range of movement within the hand, thumb, and wrist
  • Enlargement within certain parts of the hand, thumb, and wrist

Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

The risk of arthritis in the hand, thumb, and wrist normally increases with age. Although the condition is most common in individuals over the age of 60, individuals over the age of 75 are at the highest risk for the disease. Women are three times more likely than men to develop arthritis of the hand, thumb, and wrist.

Other causes and risk factors include:

  • Trauma or injury to the hands, thumbs or wrists
  • Obesity
  • A genetic predisposition to arthritis
  • A family history of arthritis
  • Diseases that increase inflammation in or around the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Performing jobs or activities that place high physical stress on the hands, thumbs or wrists

Tests and Diagnosis of Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

A doctor first performs a physical exam and evaluates medical history to identify signs of arthritis. Doctors use imaging tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans to observe and assess the extent and location of the cartilage damage. Blood tests can help doctors determine the type of arthritis present.

Treatment and Care for Arthritis of the Hand, Thumb, and Wrist

Medications such as steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and naproxen can help patients manage pain and inflammation. In serious cases, surgery can provide pain relief and improve hand, thumb and wrist function.

Other methods used to treat or manage arthritis in the hand, thumb, and wrist include:

  • Weight management through exercise
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Physical therapy (to strengthen the muscles around the damaged joints)
  • Soaking the hand in warm water to reduce swelling
  • Wearing a wrist splint for support and to ease stress in the joints
  • Refraining from activities that physically strain the joints