Managing arthritis in the fingers
Arthritis in the fingers is a common condition that affects millions of people globally.
It’s a form of joint inflammation that can cause pain, swelling, and limited mobility in the affected fingers.
Several treatment options can help you manage the potentially debilitating symptoms, including medications, physical therapy, and surgery.
Types of finger arthritis
There are over 100 types of arthritis, but the three main types of finger arthritis are:
- osteoarthritis (OA)
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- psoriatic arthritis (PsA)
OA is the most common type of finger arthritis.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the fingers include:
- joint pain and stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity
- the formation of bony growths on the finger joints
- swelling and fluid retention
- reduced range of motion
OA is not an autoimmune condition like RA. It’s generally believed that repetition and overuse of joints cause wear and tear. This causes OA by deteriorating the cushioning layer of cartilage found in fingers.
Additionally, emerging evidence suggests that other factors can contribute to the condition, such as:
- Obesity and metabolic syndrome: People with obesity or metabolic syndrome may be more likely to develop OA.
- Genetic predisposition: More than 80 specific genes have been linked with OA development.
- Sex: Some research suggests that females are more likely to develop OA.
- Previous injuries: Injuries like fractures or ligament damage may contribute to the condition.
- Age: Although OA can develop at any age, older age is the greatest risk factor.
RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints.
This type of arthritis affects many other joints, including the fingers, and can cause joint deformities and permanent damage if left untreated.
Symptoms of RA in the fingers are similar to those of OA. However, while OA may affect only certain joints, RA typically affects many joints at once, often on both sides of your body.
Causes are not yet understood, but some research suggests they may include:
- genetic factors
- exposure to silica dust
- a diet high in red meat and low in fish and fruit
- certain infections
PsA is a type of arthritis that, like OA and RA, can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. It can also cause psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by red, scaly, itchy, or painful patches.
Like RA, this type of arthritis can affect many joints, including the fingers.
The causes for this condition are also not yet clearly defined, but research from 2019 suggests they can include:
- Age: Although PsA can affect any age, people typically receive a diagnosis after age 40.
- Certain other conditions: You may be more likely to develop PsA if you also have osteoporosis, bowel inflammation, or heart disease.
- Genetics: Specific genes may associate with this condition.
- Infections: Certain infections, particularly strep (Streptococcus), may link to PsA development.
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Treatment for arthritis in the fingers
None of the types of finger arthritis have a known cure.
Treatment differs between arthritis types and the individual, but is generally focused on:
- reducing or eliminating pain
- increasing quality of life, for example through an increased motion range
- preventing further joint damage and worsening symptoms
Doctors often recommend medications to manage finger arthritis.
For autoimmune arthritis like RA and PsA, your doctor may prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as:
- hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)
- methotrexate (Trexall)
- sulfasalazine (Azulfidine)
- etanercept (Enbrel)
- adalimumab (Humira)
- infliximab (Remicade)
Physical therapy may help improve joint mobility, reduce pain, and strengthen the muscles around affected joints.
It can be especially effective in the earlier stages of finger arthritis.
A physical therapist can develop an exercise program tailored to your needs and abilities. They can also teach you how to perform activities of daily living in a way that minimizes strain on the affected joints.
Assistive devices can help reduce strain on the affected joints and make it easier to perform daily activities.
The devices are readily available in well-stocked pharmacies and online. They include:
- special grips for utensils
- tailored utensils, such as kitchen tools or computer equipment
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace the affected joint.
Surgery can help reduce pain and improve joint mobility. It’s typically considered a last resort when other treatments don’t manage pain and restrictive movement well enough.
Making things easier at home
Home remedies can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the fingers.
For example, you can try:
- applying heat or cold to the affected joint
- practicing gentle range-of-motion exercises
- taking frequent breaks during activities that place strain on your fingers
- using ergonomic tools and devices
- eating a balanced diet, particularly the Mediterranean diet
Finger arthritis is a common condition that can cause symptoms like joint pain, swelling, and limited mobility.
There are around 100 types of arthritis, with the three main types of finger arthritis being osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
You may manage your symptoms with medications, physical therapy, assistive devices, or surgery.
You can also try home remedies like applying heat or cold, gentle exercises, taking frequent breaks during straining activities, and using ergonomic tools.
If you have finger arthritis, consider consulting your doctor or a physical therapist for tailored advice on which options are best for your arthritis type, symptoms, and lifestyle.
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