You likely know someone who suffers from arthritis — or perhaps you suffer from it yourself. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States. It affects over 50 million Americans. Arthritis can strike a number of areas, including the hands.
What Is Arthritis?
There has been a lot of information about arthritis over the years. It can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction.
Arthritis is not a single disease. Instead, the term “arthritis” is used to refer to joint pain or joint disease. There are 100 different types of arthritis.
Arthritis of the Hands
If you have arthritis in your hands, it affects the joints. You may notice:
- limited mobility or range of motion
You may regularly experience these symptoms, or it may be days or even weeks before you have a flare-up. Depending on the severity of your case, over time you may experience chronic pain and even doing simple activities may prove difficult.
Anatomy of the Hand
The anatomy of the hand is responsible for the havoc arthritis can wreak on it. The hand and wrist area is made up of several different bones. Two or more bones meet and form a joint, and all of the fingers contain three joints except the thumb, which has two.
The bone surface area near the joint is covered with cartilage. Cartilage makes it possible for your bones to pass smoothly against one another as they move. A fibrous capsule lined with a thin membrane called synovium encloses each joint. This capsule secretes a fluid, which handles lubricating the joints.
Connective tissues called ligaments support and connect the bones, and make sure they stay in place. Tendons are another form of connective tissue. They connect the muscles to the bone, which in turn allows the muscle to move your bone. When arthritis strikes the hand, it usually affects these vital parts.
Types of Arthritis That Affect the Hands
There are a few different types of arthritis that may affect your hands.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It is a chronic condition. If you have OA, the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones at the joints breaks down. Once the cartilage begins to degrade, your hard bones rub against each other in the joint area. Stiffness, pain, and loss of movement in the joint are a few common symptoms that you may notice.
Your immune system typically protects you from infection. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), though, is a chronic joint inflammatory disease caused by an attack on the body started by the immune system.
The body’s immune system attacks the synovium, which lines the joints. In addition to joint damage, you will likely notice:
- loss of function
RA typically affects the wrist and finger joints. In addition to making hand usage difficult, it can cause deformities.
You may think that arthritis just affects older people, but that could not be further from the truth. Juvenile arthritis is used to describe the disease when it strikes before the age of 16.
There are many different types, and it causes pain and joint swelling in the hands and wrist. Injuries such as broken bones in your hands or ligament, or tendon damage in your hand or wrist can also cause arthritis. Though the injury heals, these areas may have become weakened and more susceptible to arthritis in the future.
The Fight Against Arthritis
There is no miracle drug or cure that can prevent arthritis. Genetics can increase your likelihood for developing arthritis. If you have a family history of arthritis, you may be more likely to develop it. Females are also more prone to arthritis.
You can do everything right and still develop arthritis down the line, but there are a few preventive measures that you can take.
- Maintain a healthy weight, which can help to fight off OA.
- Don’t smoke, or quit smoking. This may reduce your chance of developing RA.
- Try to avoid injury when playing sports or participating in recreational activities.
If your job calls for a lot of typing, practice good posture and, if necessary, get a special keyboard or wrist cushion or pad. This can help you avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. Wearing a special brace or splint can also help to alleviate problems. These preventive measures keep you from putting too much pressure on these areas.
Repetitive motions, such as typing, can cause arthritis and pain over time. If your job requires a lot of pushing, pulling, or lifting of heavy objects, be careful. These types of movements, especially when done incorrectly, can cause damage to the hands that can lead to arthritis.
Arthritis can be difficult to diagnose. It’s important that you talk to your doctor if you begin to experience any of the symptoms.
Your doctor will look at your hands and joints, and check for tenderness. Your doctor will also look for any pain or swelling, or any other damage. They may send you to a rheumatologist who will conduct a thorough questionnaire and physical exam. The questionnaire will include questions about your and your family’s medical history, and your daily activities or job. Blood tests, X-rays, and other imaging tests can often help to determine the level of inflammation.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, many doctors feel that aggressive treatment is needed early on, or within the “window of opportunity.” This window of opportunity is two years after the initial onset of the disease.
Arthritis is a debilitating disease and early detection is key. With so many different types of arthritis that can affect the hand, the treatment and diagnosis options can vary. There are medications on the market that help to ease pain and inflammation. They can also slow down bone loss. In extreme cases, especially if you have deformities, surgery may be necessary to correct or alleviate certain problems.
Staying active, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and getting plenty of sleep are simple ways that you can manage your arthritis. Make sure to take a break when doing strenuous or repetitive activities. Figure out the activities that cause your arthritis to flare up and learn the best way to manage your pain. If you do have pain in your hands, assistive devices, which are designed to take pressure of the joints, can be helpful. Examples of devices incudes special jar openers or gripping devices.
When arthritis strikes, it does not discriminate. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that by the year 2030, 67 million people will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis. With such staggering figures, it is important that you are aware of the dangers of arthritis and, more importantly, the causes and symptoms. If you or your child begins to experience any symptoms, get them checked out. When it comes to getting ahead of arthritis, early detection is the best detection.