Arthritis in your hands
The joints in your hands and fingers may be the most delicate in the body. At their best, they work together like a well-oiled machine and help you do your daily activities with ease.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The three main types are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Each type develops differently, but all can be painful and lead to loss of function and deformity.
In its earliest stages, arthritis causes a dull, burning sensation in your fingers. You might experience this pain after an active day when you’ve used your hands more than usual. Pain in the early stages of arthritis may come and go.
As arthritis worsens, more cartilage wears away. Without the protective barrier to cushion your delicate joints, you may have pain even when you don’t use your hands, or when you use them very little. Pain might become so severe that it wakes you up from your sleep.
The tissue and cartilage in your hands and fingers is designed to protect your delicate joints. If a joint is under excessive stress or is damaged, the tissues that line the joint may swell. This swelling may make your fingers and hands appear more puffy than usual.
Arthritis in a joint causes joint stiffness. When the tissue and cartilage is swollen, a joint cannot move as freely. Joint stiffness is especially common in the morning when you haven’t used the joint in several hours. It also occurs after a long day of movement or work when the joints have been under more stress than usual.
The cartilage in your joints can wear away unevenly. Additionally, the tissues and ligaments designed to hold the joints in place grow weaker as arthritis progresses. These two developments can cause deformities in your fingers and hands. As the condition worsens, the deformity will be more obvious.
Grinding in joints
A layer of cartilage covers and cushions the bones in a healthy joint. In an arthritic joint, the cartilage is worn away and disappears altogether. As this happens, you may experience a grinding or grating sensation in your joints. This is caused by bone-on-bone contact in your joint. This will be painful, and the loss of cartilage will appear in X-rays as a loss of joint space.
When a joint is damaged, ligaments and tissues around the joint can become inflamed. This inflammation will cause the joint to feel warm. It may also cause redness around the joint.
Small fluid-filled sacs called mucous cysts may develop in arthritic hands. These cysts may appear like small dents or ridges on your fingers. They are most likely to develop at the end of the finger and may occur under the fingernail. The cysts are usually small, measuring up to 1/4 inch. They are most common in older people. It may appear as a round “pearl” on top of the hand near the nail, at the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP).
Bone spurs may also develop in arthritic joints. As the damage in a joint worsens, the body’s reaction may be to create extra bone. These knobby growths can give your hands and fingers a gnarled appearance. Bone spurs may eventually prevent a joint from functioning properly.
Recognizing arthritis in your fingers
More than 1 in 5 American adults live with the visible — or invisible — symptoms of arthritis each day. If you recognize arthritis symptoms in your hands and fingers, make an appointment with your doctor. They can teach you joint exercises and help you find treatments that will ease your pain and discomfort.