How to diagnose arthritis in fingers

Updated April 17, 2017

Hands that are suddenly sore, stiff in the morning or whose joints are painful and swollen may be showing signs of arthritis. If your fingers are bothering you, a correct diagnosis is important for your physician to treat the symptoms. Find out how arthritis is diagnosed and what kinds of arthritis may be causing your pain.

Examine your hands and fingers for signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis often presents itself by affecting two or more joints, often on both sides of the body. The joints may appear swollen, red or tender. The pain is often worst in the morning, when your fingers may be stiff and difficult to move without pain. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of any age.

Move your fingers and listen or feel for any pain or unusual sensations when the joints are exercised. Osteoarthritis is a disease more commonly found in the elderly, as it is a degenerative disease, meaning the symptoms get worse over time. Osteoarthritis may only occur in one joint, or in several. Symptoms include pain and stiffness, which often improves when the fingers and other hand joints are rested, and a grating feeling when the joints are moved.

Make a list of the symptoms you are experiencing. If you feel worse in the morning or after washing dishes, write down how you feel, what fingers or joints are bothering you, and whether they are swollen or have any other visible characteristics. This will help you discuss your symptoms with your doctor and see any patterns to the pain you feel.

Schedule an appointment with your physician if you notice any symptoms. Your doctor will examine your hands and she may ask you questions about your pain and mobility level. For a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will perform blood tests. Ask for the Rheumatoid Factor and the Anti-CCP Antibody Test, which are used by your physician or rheumatologist to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. A positive result will indicate the presence of rheumatoid arthritis.

Ask your doctor if you should get X-rays, which are also used to diagnose arthritis, especially osteoarthritis. Your doctor will request X-rays of your hands to see the condition of your finger and wrist joints and to asses damage. Using this information, she can make an accurate diagnosis of arthritis.


If you suspect arthritis, make an appointment with your doctor. Do not attempt to diagnose a medical condition on your own. This information is provided for informational purposes only.

Things You'll Need

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
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About the Author

Christine Meyer has been writing professionally since 1995. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in music from Taylor University, a CELTA from the University of Cambridge ESOL, and a CBA in marketing from IBMEC Rio de Janeiro, Meyer has experience in a variety of fields. Her articles have been published in newspapers and on sites such as