A Patient’s Guide to Osteoarthritis of the Hand

The following information is from the American Society of Hand Therapists and is available as a handout from their website: http://www.asht.org.

This image of hands affected by osteoarthritis is from handtherapy.com.au, where you can learn more about the different types of arthritis.

What is osteoarthritis of the hand?

There are many joints in the human hand. Joints in the hand are formed where two or more bones meet. In between the joints, we have a cushion called cartilage. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage between the bones becomes thin or worn out.This allows the bones to touch and not move smoothly against one another. Arthritis in the hand may lead to pain, stiffness and loss of function.

These photograph and X-ray images of a hand with osteoarthritis are from www.researchgate.net (Marshall et al. 2014).

What causes osteoarthritis in the hand?

Osteoarthritis is caused by overuse, an injury to a joint, or “wear and tear” on a joint. This may be present in all joints of the hand or only a few. Other factors that may contribute to osteoarthritis in the hand are age, gender, and family history.

Image showing the various locations osteoarthritis may affect the hands from www.health.harvard.edu.

What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hand?

Stiffness, pain, and weakness are some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hand. Joints in the hand may also have a deep ache, be tender or warm to the touch, develop swelling or have a change in appearance, such as a bump. Osteoarthritis in the hand may make it difficult to perform activities, such as gripping or pinching.

Image from boneandspine.com showing the different types of bumps, or nodes, forming in the hand joints.

What is the treatment for osteoarthritis in the hand?

Osteoarthritis in the hand will be diagnosed by a doctor. Often an X-ray is taken to determine if there are changes to joint surfaces. The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to help ease the discomfort. A referral to a hand therapist will also help to manage osteoarthritis in the hands. If pain and stiffness continue to be a problem, the doctor may recommend surgery.

X-ray image of hands affected by osteoarthritis from radiopaedia.org.

What can a hand therapist do for me?

A hand therapist is a great resource in the treatment of hand osteoarthritis. The main goal in hand therapy is to decrease pain and improve hand function. A hand therapist may suggest using heat to decrease joint stiffness and pain. An orthosis may be used to provide rest and proper positioning to painful joints. A hand therapist will provide instruction in the use of adaptive equipment and also provide a specialized home program to protect the joints, decrease joint stiffness, and improve the ability to use the hand.