According to the Institute of Integrative Healthcare Studies about two out of three Americans will have arthritic symptoms as they age (See Resources). Because there are 27 bones in each hand, arthritis of the fingers and thumbs is a common disability as there are so many finger joints where arthritis may develop. What's more, humans use their fingers for more activities than most body parts, adding to the problem. That's why finger and thumb arthritis can be so debilitating as it limits the ability to do everyday tasks.
Arthritis, which means "inflamed joint," is a condition caused by the wearing down of normal joint surfaces. Joints, where two bones meet, have a special lining called cartilage. When the cartilage wears down it causes pain and other difficult symptoms. Although arthritis can attack any body joint, it's mostly seen in hands and fingers.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. It's due to the joints wearing out or degenerating because of years of everyday wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which joints are chronically inflamed. In other words, it can continue for years, although patients may have periods with no symptoms. It's usually progressive, causing damage to joints. Besides joints, rheumatoid arthritis can also inflame surrounding joint tissues, in addition to other body organs.
Symptoms for Osteoarthritis of the Fingers
The most common symptoms of osteoarthritis affecting fingers are pain, swelling and stiffness. Usually it afflicts menopausal women. Because of inflammation joints feel warm and sensitive when touched. An aching pain within the thumb base is a common symptom of osteoarthritis of the basilar joint. Swelling at the thumb's base is another sign, in addition to a bump at the place where the wrist is joined may suggest finger osteoarthritis. Loss of strength can be a symptom as one has difficulty gripping and opening jars or turning keys.
Symptoms for Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Fingers
Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the middle fingertip joints. Finger joints are so small that inflammation or damaged done by rheumatoid arthritis can cause loss of motion, besides stiffness in the joints. While fingers are resting pain may be severe or shooting. To add to the misery, there's the likelihood you can't straighten out your fingers. The same joints are on both hands are affected as rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical disease. Other symptoms signalling rheumatoid arthritis may include weakness and fatigue. Swelling and pain in finger joints lasting for six weeks and longer is another symptom. Intermittent periods of joint stiffness and immobility can indicate finger rheumatoid arthritis. With movement symptoms can improve. Weight loss, feeling sickly most of the time and having a mild fever are also symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you have symptoms hinting of finger arthritis, have a doctor examine your hands as this helps determine the type of arthritis. Also have X-rays taken to look for any narrowing of joint space, as well as bony outgrowths forming (nodes). Also, X-rays can show any hard bony areas developing along the joint margins. Treatment may involve cortisone injections into the finger joints, giving temporary relief. Physical and occupational therapy may also be prescribed where patients can learn how to ease symptoms, rest use heat or topical rubs. Sometimes surgery is needed, as in rheumatoid arthritis. Artificial joint replacement is metal or plastic prostheses which some hand surgeons use for replacing arthritic joints. Arthroplasty is the process of implanting a new joint.
It's a common misconception that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. However, this is just an old wives' tale because there isn't any scientific proof that knuckle cracking causes arthritis. However, it's still not good to continually push a joint beyond its normal range. Although knuckle cracking doesn't cause arthritis, it can weaken your grip, besides being annoying to others who have to hear it.
People who are obese are more prone to osteoarthritis. Therefore watch your diet and exercise to avoid arthritis problems.