Arthritis is a degenerative disease that affects the tissues surrounding a joint: in osteoarthritis, the cartilage padding the space between bones is broken down by wear and tear, whereas the damage from rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an inflammatory autoimmune condition. In either case, the damage to the cartilage and bone causes pain, deformity, and limited motion; when this occurs in the hand, it can severely affect daily life.
Osteoarthritis in the hand tends to affect certain areas more than others: the most common are the joint at the base of the thumb (where it meets the wrist), the joints closest to the fingertips, and the middle joint of the main fingers. Noticeable bumps or bony knobs may appear at the site of a damaged joint, and when arthritis affects the thumb joint, grasping motions can become difficult due to the pain, which is a deep ache.
In the early stages of hand arthritis in the hand, the pain may be mild and feel like a dull burning; as it progresses and the friction between bones increases due to the cartilage deterioration, the pain occurs more frequently and becomes more intense. Certain daily activities, especially those that require a gripping or pinching motion (turning keys and opening jars are two of the most common) become more difficult. Other symptoms include swelling, and the joint may feel warm to the touch; both are inflammatory reactions as the body tries to heal the area and prevent you from using it, and therefore stressing it, more. Small cysts may also form near the fingertip when the end joint is affected.
The earlier a diagnosis is received, the easier it is to treat, so consult your doctor at the first signs of weakness or pain in your hands. Anti-inflammatory medication is the first step in treatment, with injections as a potential option for more advanced cases. Neither can reverse joint damage, but they can help you manage symptoms. A small splint that still allows you to use your hands may be recommended during painful periods or for certain activities. In more advanced cases, surgery, such as a joint replacement or fusion, may be necessary.