Signs of Arthritis in the Hands

Updated November 21, 2016

Arthritis occurs when the joints begin to lose cartilage. As a result, swelling occurs, which makes it difficult for your hands to perform simple tasks, due to pain and inflammation. Arthritis can be a result of trauma (an injury) or disease (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis). About one out of every five people suffer from arthritis, and most people are under the age of 50. There are many signs of arthritis pain and flare up.


When you begin to notice signs of arthritis in your hands, pain will be the initial symptom. Pain may be described as either dull or have a burning sensation to it. In some cases, pain may be more pronounced in the mornings or after using your hands for extended periods of time. For example, if you use your hands for lifting or holding heavy objects, the joints in your hands may become stiff and painful.


Joints that are affected with arthritis will swell. Joints at the ends of the finger are more affected, and you may begin to notice what are called Herbeden nodes. These nodes are a formation of swelling and bumps that appear at the foundation of the nail. Also, bone spurs (a growth of bone) can occur at the end of your thumb, causing swelling and disfigurement. As a result, your joints will hurt, and may have a decreased range of motion and ability to grasp objects.

Crepitation and Looseness

You may begin to feel a grinding sensation in your joints. This is known as crepitation. Cartilage that becomes damaged within your hands will begin to rub against one another, which causes the sensation felt. Looseness of the joints will occur if ligaments within the hand become damaged. Joints will lose their support structures and become loose. The joints may then become enlarged.

Other Signs

At times your joints may feel warm. You may also notice that your hands are red or puffy, that you may have a fever or that at times you are tired. You may also develop cysts (mucous cysts) at the ends of your fingers. The cysts will cause dents in your nail bed on the finger that is affected by them.


If arthritis occurs as a result of osteoarthritis, this means that the joints are afflicted by a degenerative disease. Joints of the thumb, tips of the fingers or the joint of the middle finger are most affected by osteoarthritis. If the arthritis is caused by rheumatoid arthritis, your white blood cells cause inflammation to your joints as a result of moving from your blood stream into the membranes of your joints. Hand injuries can also play a role, due to the damage caused on the joints.


There is no cure for arthritis, but there is management to help alleviate symptoms. Depending on the severity and progression of the arthritis, you may need medication, injections, splinting or surgery. Medications can help alleviate inflammation and pain. Injections are used to help manage pain, and in some cases, may ward of pain for months at a time. Splints are used to reduce stress on the affected joints, and surgery may be a last option when all other treatments do not work.

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