Osteoarthritis in the hands: symptoms, causes and treatment

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterised by the deterioration of the cartilage in your joints. This painful deterioration can make it difficult to for you to perform certain movements. While it commonly affects the knees or hips, osteoarthritis can also affect your hands, which are complex structures with an essential role to fulfil, and as such are particularly vulnerable to this condition.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands

Osteoarthritis can affect any of the joints in your hands, but the top joints in your fingers (finger osteoarthritis) or the joint at the base of your thumbs (thumb osteoarthritis) are the most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis can also affect your wrists.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands can vary. For example, you might find it difficult or feel pain when you perform certain movements (such as grasping an object), your joints might be stiff, swollen or red, your fingertips could feel numb, or your joints could be misshapen (due to the growth of small, bony nodules). The pain is worse when you wake up in the morning, and both hands can be affected. Osteoarthritis progresses through alternating stages of flare-ups and remission that vary in duration.

Causes of osteoarthritis in the hands

Osteoarthritis of the hands can have a number of causes. Wear and tear of the cartilage is associated with the natural ageing of your joints. However, osteoarthritis in your hands may also be hereditary, or the result of another condition (such as rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis for example), a fracture or be caused by overuse of your hand due to repetitive movements. Finally, obesity is a risk factor.

Treating osteoarthritis in the hands

When you have a flare-up, you might find that using a hot or cold compress on the joint helps to ease the pain, as can taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs. Your doctor might also prescribe you corticosteroid injections. Wearing a thumb support or a splint may also help to relieve the pain and reduce the risk of your fingers becoming misshapen. Physiotherapy can also be helpful, and in the most severe cases, you may be offered the option of surgery.

There are also some solutions that help to relieve or reduce joint pain without the need for medication. This is a key feature of the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers, which combine soothing heat with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).