If you have swollen, achy fingers, it’s possible that you’re experiencing symptoms of arthritis.

Currently, there’s no cure for arthritis, but symptoms like pain can be managed through medications, surgery, self-care, and home treatments.

How are arthritis nodules on fingers treated?

Nodules or bumps on your fingers could be a symptom of arthritis. Nodules can occur as a result of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause nodules to develop in the synovium (joint lining) of your fingers and knuckles.

Other musculoskeletal and constitutional signs and symptoms of RA include:

  • Pain in the wrist and small joints of the fingers 
  • Deformities of the wrist and fingers
  • Inability to straighten fingers
  • Tendon ruptures
  • Unexplained body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever

Unless these nodules restrict movement or cause pain, your doctor will likely not recommend excision or surgical removal.

If your doctor feels treatment is appropriate, they may recommend disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologics. In certain circumstances, your doctor may recommend injections of corticosteroids or surgery.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that can cause bumps to develop on your fingers. As these nodes form, they can cause your fingers to become crooked.

Bumps on the joint near the tip of your finger (distal interphalangeal joints) are referred to as Heberden’s nodes.

Bumps on the joint near the hand (proximal interphalangeal joints) are referred to as Bouchard’s nodes. 

Other symptoms of OA include:

  • Pain located under the base of the thumb
  • Stiffness in the limbs, especially in the morning
  • Difficulty with pinching and gripping items 

Heberden’s nodes and Bouchard’s nodes don’t have a specific treatment. The treatment will typically be covered by overall arthritis treatment. This includes OTC medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Your doctor may also suggest and prescribe  medications and physical exercises.

Self-treatment for arthritis in your fingers

To relieve pain and stiffness, popular home remedies for arthritis include:

  • Applying counterirritants. Ointments or creams containing capsaicin or menthol can be applied topically to interfere with your joints’ pain signal transmission.
  • Soaking hands in warm water. You can also try adding magnesium salts to the water. Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory, but there’s limited evidence that it can be absorbed through the skin. 
  • Wrapping hands in a warm towel or using paraffin wax treatments.

Hand exercises for arthritis

Hand exercises or hand therapy can help you improve mobility in your fingers. 

If you want to try hand therapy, you can ask your doctor to refer you to a hand therapist, which can be an occupational therapist or physical therapist. They’ll work with you to show you exercises that may help alleviate pain and improve flexibility in your hands. 

For example, they may ask you to make a loose fist and then slowly open your hand. They can also show you different ways to complete everyday tasks to avoid pain and stiffness.

Assistive devices to open cans and doors, reach for objects, and assist with dressing yourself can be prescribed for you. These can help alleviate stress on your joints.

Alternative medicine for arthritis 

While there’s not much evidence, some promising complementary and alternative treatments for arthritis include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Symptoms

If you think you may have arthritis in your fingers, symptoms to look out for include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Pain
  • Decreased range of motion or loss of joint function
  • Redness
  • Joint deformity
  • Weakness

Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you have. They may suggest certain lab tests (blood, joint fluid, urine) or imaging tests (X-ray, ultrasound) as part of your complete evaluation.

How common is arthritis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 54 million U.S. adults have arthritis. For about half of those people, arthritis limits their activities.

About 15 million people experience arthritis-related severe joint pain.

Arthritis is more common among women than men, and risk often increases with age.

Arthritis is also commonly diagnosed among those with other chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and can make it more difficult for people to manage these chronic conditions.

Takeaway

While there’s currently no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to treat symptoms like pain, swelling, stiffness, and weakness. You can try taking medications, doing exercises, or using home remedies. 

If you think you may have arthritis in your fingers, talk with your doctor about a comprehensive workup and ask what treatment recommendations, based on your current health and medications, might be beneficial for you.