Early Signs of Osteoarthritis in Fingers

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease caused by joint wear and cartilage damage. This arthritis affects about 1 in 8 adults. Years of using your fingers results in gradual joint deterioration. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) reports osteoarthritis usually develops at the base of the thumb, the finger joint closest to the fingertip and at the finger joint in the middle of the finger. OA develops in joints over time. When visible signs of OA appear in your fingers, seek help while the disease is in the early stages.


Be aware of clumsy hand coordination. The basilar joint, where the thumb meets the wrist, is a common osteoarthritis site. An early OA thumb symptom is hand gripping or twisting problems. The thumb and fingers must work together to pinch or grip objects. When the thumb base is inflamed, it cannot easily turn a key in a lock and gripping jar lids or twisting off bottle caps is difficult.

Middle Joint

Watch for bumps or small cysts at the middle joint of the finger. This is called the proximal interphalangeal, or PIP, joint. These small bumps at the top or side of the joint are visible but painless in the early stages of osteoarthritis. The swelling interferes with full mobility and, as a result, fingers often curve inward.

End Joint

Look for nodes or nodules at the end joint near the fingertip. This end joint, called the distal interphalangeal, or DIP, typically develops fluid bumps at the same time as the PIP joints. The DIP joint affects fingertip movement. Picking up small objects like straight pins or needles is more challenging.


Note increasing stiffness in your fingers. Your fingers lose flexibility as the protective cartilage between your finger joints wears. Refined movements like gripping a pencil or fastening small buttons are difficult. Soaking your hands in warm water or wearing gloves during exercise helps movement in early OA as warmth relieves stiffness. Using cold packs after exercise helps reduce swelling of inflamed joints.


Report symptoms of joint nodes, finger stiffness or fingertip numbness to your doctor. A simple examination often confirms finger osteoarthritis. Lab tests and imaging can show specific joint damage. Your doctor may suggest a specialist in arthritis for detailed evaluation.


The ASSH suggests non-surgical treatment in the early stages of osteoarthritis, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and nutritional supplements like glucosamine and essential fatty acids. Gentle finger exercises help maintain mobility and flexibility. Avoid temperature extremes that cause pain and circulation problems. Rest your fingers after activity. Use oral or ointment analgesics to reduce inflammation. Wearing supportive gloves during sports or work often slows the disease progression.

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About the Author

Phyllis Benson is a professional writer and creative artist. Her 25-year background includes work as an editor, syndicated reporter and feature writer for publications including "Journal Plus," "McClatchy Newspapers" and "Sacramento Union." Benson earned her Bachelor of Science degree at California Polytechnic University.