If your fingers are feeling stiff, numb or starting to swell, it could be a sign you have arthritis in your hands.
Arthritis is a condition that causes tenderness and swelling in joints, per the Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis can be sudden or come on gradually, and it's more common with age, though it's not inevitable — and there are various ways to treat it.
Video of the Day
Here, Rajat Bhatt, MD, a rheumatologist with Memorial Hermann in Richmond, Texas, explains the symptoms, side effects and treatment options for finger arthritis.
Types of Arthritis
Arthritis is a broad term, Dr. Bhatt says, which can describe many conditions that affect the joints. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the most common types of arthritis that affects the hands include:
- Osteoarthritis: the most common form of arthritis that develops when joint cartilage breaks down from repeated stress, often referred to as "wear and tear" arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis: a chronic, long-term disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue in your joints
- Psoriatic arthritis: joint inflammation that develops in people with psoriasis (an autoimmune disorder that causes skin irritation)
According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis in the hands doesn't have a specific cause, but several factors can lead to it. People most at risk of developing it include:
- Older adults
- People assigned female at birth
- Caucasian people
- People with obesity
- Those with a family history
An injured joint can also develop arthritis over time, per Dr. Bhatt. Fractures or dislocations in finger joints or finger bones are common injuries that can lead to arthritis.
If you've experienced joint problems including infections, overuse or poor alignment, that can also lead to arthritis in the wrists or hands, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Symptoms of Arthritis in the Fingers
The first signs of arthritis in the fingers is hand joint pain, pain in the fingers and joint stiffness and swelling, Dr. Bhatt says. It also depends on the type of arthritis you're dealing with.
The most common type, osteoarthritis, can have symptoms including:
- Hand joint pain
- Loss of motion
- Joint deformity
- Weakness in hands
- Bone spurs (these are bony growths that usually appear near joints, per the Cleveland Clinic)
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are similar to osteoarthritis but can also include fatigue, fever and loss of appetite, per the Mayo Clinic.
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that might affect people who live with psoriasis. That's a condition that causes itchy and sore skin plaques on the body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some people with psoriasis develop joint problems before skin-related symptoms appear, or they appear around the same time.
Psoriatic arthritis symptoms may include:
- Swollen fingers and toes
- Foot and lower back pain
- Fingernail changes
- Eye inflammation
Side Effects of Arthritis in the Fingers
Depending on the type of arthritis you have, certain side effects may appear, Dr. Bhatt says. "Arthritis can lead to deformities and difficulty picking up objects, for example," he says.
Bone spurs: According to Harvard Health Publishing, osteoarthritis commonly forms nodes (also called bone spurs) on joints. This is when bones grind against each other, creating new bone forms, which show up as bumps on the joints. There can be pain and swelling, with joints becoming bumpy as bone spurs appear, Dr. Bhatt says. This side effect can also negatively affect range of motion in your hands.
Myxoid cysts: Another frequent side effect of osteoarthritis is myxoid cysts, per the Cleveland Clinic. They are small, benign bumps that typically form near a joint at the end of your fingers. Myxoid cysts usually don't require treatment, but they can be surgically removed.
Treatments for Finger Arthritis
Arthritis is a condition with no cure, but it can be treated so it becomes manageable. Treatment depends on factors like the type of arthritis, symptoms and severity of the condition.
Treating arthritis in the hands will mainly focus on improving joint mobility and decreasing pain and stiffness, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Short-term treatment can include medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), Dr. Bhatt says. These are pain-relieving drugs, like ibuprofen, that can also help with joint swelling.
Other medications can bring arthritis pain relief and are available as creams, lotions and pills, per the Cleveland Clinic. They can include:
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs: DMARDs like methotrexate slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and relieve symptoms.
- Corticosteroids: These can be taken orally, injected or via IV to decrease inflammation.
- Immunosuppressive drugs: These help slow down rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and decrease bone damage surrounding your joints.
- Biologic agents: These drugs help slow down joint damage.
Non-drug options for treatment include placing joints in a brace or splint to reduce strain, per Harvard Health Publishing.
People with arthritis in their hands can also do hand exercises to strengthen their hands with hand weights. Exercising your hands can help with joint flexibility, mobility and grip strength. The Mayo Clinic suggests simple exercises that require no equipment, including:
- Knuckle bends
- Fist stretches
- Finger walks
- Thumb stabilization
- Fingertip touches
When to See a Doctor About Finger Arthritis
If you suspect you have finger arthritis, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to address the cause and make a treatment plan, Dr. Bhatt says. If the condition is so severe that drugs or natural remedies aren't enough, surgery may be an option for you.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, arthritis can be treated with several surgical options, including joint fusion and joint replacement. Talk with your doctor to determine what option can provide long-term relief and better function.
- Arthritis Foundation: "Osteoarthritis of the Hands"
- Mayo Clinic: "Rheumatoid Arthritis"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Arthritis of the Hand"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Myxoid Cyst"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Identifying Arthritis in Your Fingers and Thumbs"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Arthritis of the Hand"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Psoriatic Arthritis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hand Exercises For People with Arthritis"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.