Thanks to high-tech power tools, exercise equipment, and lots of typing with the Internet and texting, our hands are exposed to constant stress and pressure. Modern life has been anything but kind to our hands, and many of us feel the brunt of this when they stiffen up or swell.
If you are feeling pain in your hands, it might be hand arthritis. A chronic disease of the joints, arthritis causes inflammation, swelling, and pain – and it is the leading cause of disability in adults.
There are more than 100 kinds of arthritis, and below is an overview of five of the most common kinds of arthritis that can affect the hands.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), so it’s usually called simply “arthritis.” This results from long-term wear and tear on the cartilage that cushions and supports your joints. For most people, OA gets worse as they get older.
The reason it gets worse is that the constant use of our hands (and other joints) over time starts to impact our bones and the protective cartilage. This makes movement more difficult and often quite painful.
While OA and its effect on your hands and other joints can’t be reversed, certain lifestyle changes may help you keep your symptoms under control. Exercising your hands and fingers, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine can help keep your fingers nimble and your hands strong.
Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs as the autoimmune system attacks the healthy tissue in your body, causing your joints to become painful and inflamed. Your doctor will conduct tests – which may include radiographs of the joints in your hands, complete blood counts (CBCs), and/or antinuclear antibody testing – to confirm or rule out RA.
Anti-inflammatory medications, hand and finger stretching exercises, changes in diet, and acupuncture can all bring relief to the symptoms of RA.
Like RA, lupus – short for systemic lupus erythematosus – is an autoimmune disease that affects your joints and can cause arthritis, but lupus can also affect many other organs in your body. Symptoms of lupus in the hands include swollen, painful joints, and Raynaud’s syndrome – which can make certain areas of your body feel numb or cold.
Other symptoms of lupus can include fatigue, headaches, rashes, anemia, and sensitivity to the sun. Treatment can include corticosteroid or immunosuppressant therapy, as well as dietary changes, getting enough rest, and avoiding excessive sun exposure.
Gout is a form of arthritis that usually causes intense, sudden pain – most often in the big toe – and is diagnosed by an excess of uric acid in the blood. Most people think of gout as affecting only the joints in the feet and ankles, but gout can also affect your hands.
Gout “flare-ups” commonly follow consuming protein-rich foods that include red meats or shellfish, and/or alcoholic beverages; but they can also be brought on by stress. Early signs and symptoms of gout include a sudden, stabbing pain or swelling at the base of the big toe (often in the middle of the night), and pain and redness combined with a sensation of heat at the joint.
Sometimes the symptoms can be felt in your elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers. More men than women are affected by gout, but lifestyle changes – particularly with diet – can lessen or eliminate symptoms.
If you have pain in your wrist or hands and are noticing swelling at the tips of your fingers, and possibly very brittle or cracked fingernails, you may have psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms mimic other arthritic conditions, so psoriatic arthritis can be difficult to diagnose.
Your doctor will conduct blood tests to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications and, if necessary, possibly surgery.
Knowing Whether You Have Arthritis
Arthritis in your hands can take many forms, but the pain or inflammation may mirror symptoms of conditions such as Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or myriad other autoimmune or inflammatory conditions. If you are experiencing burning or numbness in the thumb or first two fingers, hand, and arm, but nowhere else in your body, you may have carpel tunnel syndrome.
If your hands are starting to appear gnarled or deformed, your doctor will perform tests to see whether it’s due to arthritis or something else, such as Boutonniere deformity or any sort of dislocation or strain injury.
Hand Doctors in Maryland
The team of hand experts at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder have a profound understanding of the complex networks of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones that compose the hand and fingers.
If you are experiencing any kind of pain or numbness, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation right away to help you control or eliminate your symptoms. Call us today at (410) 296-6232 to make an appointment, or request an appointment online. Let us help you get back to a more pain-free lifestyle again!