Degeneration of any joint can lead to a chronically painful situation. Osteoarthritis affects millions of people in our country, a large majority of them in their fifties and beyond. This condition may develop in a number of different areas. When it is the hands, there are four common areas that may be involved:
- The DIP joints, or fingertips of one or more hands
- The thumb (basilar joint)
- The PIP joint at the middle knuckle of one or more hands
- The wrist
To have osteoarthritis in one or more of the joints in the hand means that you have minimal, or no, cartilage in the joint to buffer friction between two bones. It also may mean that you have stiffness, pain, and inflammation. Individuals with hand arthritis may experience chronic aching. Joints may feel stiff in the morning, or when attempts are made to carry items with a grip or to open certain types of containers, such as a jar with a twist-off lid.
When osteoarthritis becomes severe, some patients may develop nodes, or areas of hardened bone around joints. Heberden's nodes refer to swelling and hardening around the fingertip, or DIP joint. Those that occur mid-finger, around PIP joints, are referred to as Bouchard's nodes. Nodes indicate that bone spurs have formed.
Are you at risk?
The unfortunate aspect of osteoarthritis is that research suggests this type of joint degeneration could be hereditary. Age is also a major factor in the development of arthritic conditions. Individuals who use their hands frequently for work or hobbies require more from the joints from the fingers to the wrists, so may have a higher risk for developing hand arthritis.
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured. Once it starts, it continues to progress. The goal in treating arthritis of the hand, or any other joint, is to minimize discomfort and preserve mobility as much as possible. This may be accomplished with lifestyle adjustments that decrease stress on affected joints. For instance, certain kitchen utensils can aid in opening jars so the hands do not have to do the "heavy lifting." Hand exercises, a healthy diet, and pain medication may also slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
More advanced treatments for hand arthritis exist, and may become necessary at some point. For more information on treatment in New Jersey, call (973) 942-1315.