Hand osteoarthritis: What is it, and how you can manage it easily and effectively

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Hand osteoarthritis: What is it, and how you can manage it easily and effectively

When hand osteoarthritis strikes, it can make you feel like you’ve lost control of things. One of the symptoms of hand osteoarthritis is deformed joints, so it makes it harder for you to move your fingers and hands about. 

But it’s time to take a grip on hand osteoarthritis. Even though there’s no direct cure for this, it can easily be managed. 

What is hand osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of joints. Joint pain and stiffness are the two main symptoms of arthritis. Hand arthritis, or hand osteoarthritis, is one of the most common types of arthritis. 

Hand osteoarthritis usually happens in these three spots:

  • The base of the thumb (where it meets the wrist)
  • The middle joint of fingers
  • One of the joints closest to the fingertips

It is said that by the time they are 85 years old, about half of all women and a quarter of all men will experience symptoms of hand osteoarthritis. 

Osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” condition. Over time, the protective cushion of the cartilage will wear away, causing the bones to rub against each other. This is what causes immense pain and immobility when one has hand osteoarthritis. Because we put our hands to use in the course of our lifetime, our hands are most likely to be affected with osteoarthritis.

Who gets affected by hand osteoarthritis?

Well in general, those older than 60 are likely to experience hand osteoarthritis symptoms, but there are certain factors that play a key role in whether you would likely get hand arthritis. These are:

  • Gender — Women are more likely to be affected by osteoarthritis than men. It is believed that most women who undergo menopause tend to gain weight, and this causes increased stress on the joints. That is why there is often a rise in osteoarthritis seen among women once they reach 55 years and older. 
  • Weight — People who are overweight or obese tend to suffer more from osteoarthritis of the hands. This is because their joints have probably weakened from supporting the extra weight over a period of time. The added pressure on the joints every day does not help either. 
  • Injuries — Those who’ve had a history of joint injuries are more susceptible to developing hand osteoarthritis, even if the injury occurred decades ago and they’ve fully recovered and healed. The joints seem to have a good memory in keeping tabs of past injuries. 
  • Joint issues — Those who have joint infections, loose ligaments and poorly aligned joints also tend to have hand osteoarthritis. 

Symptoms of hand osteoarthritis

Although swelling and pain are the two most common symptoms associated with arthritis or hand osteoarthritis, there are plenty of other symptoms that could indicate you have hand osteoarthritis. It could be all or a few of the following:

Loss of motion and stiffness — When hand osteoarthritis progresses, there’s a chance that you will lose the ability to close and open your hands and fingers. 

Pain — In the beginning, hand osteoarthritis pain will appear to come and go. When you use your hands, the pain tends to get worse and the pain normally ceases when you put your hand to rest. When you wake up in the morning, pain and stiffness is commonly felt. As you continue to live with hand osteoarthritis, the pain might become more constant and stronger that it could keep you awake at night. 

Clicking or cracking sounds — When damaged joint surfaces rub together due to the loss of healthy cartilage, you may feel or hear grinding, clicking or cracking sensations in your hands.

Swelling — Due to the constant irritation and tissue damage surrounding the joints, swelling might occur as a response. The hands might become red and tender to the touch.

Bumps — Also known as nodules, bony lumps may form on the middle joints of the fingers or near the fingertips.

Weakness — All that joint pain, loss of motion and joint deformity can leave the hands weak. Simple tasks like opening jars and using keys can now be challenging.

How is hand osteoarthritis diagnosed?

When you start to feel any of the above symptoms (or maybe all of them), we urge you to see a doctor. In order to correctly diagnose if you have hand arthritis or hand osteoarthritis, the doctor will check for signs of: 

  • Swelling
  • Deformity
  • Tenderness in hand joints
  • Limited range of motion

Your doctor can also order an x-ray in order to look for signs of cartilage loss, a key indicator that you may well have hand arthritis.

How to manage hand osteoarthritis pain

Remember, managing hand osteoarthritis is always in your hands – quite literally and figuratively. There may not be a direct cure at the moment, but with the proper care and prevention, one can still easily enjoy life even with hand osteoarthritis.

Here are some of our easiest tips:

1. Hot and cold treatment

You will need both a warm and cold compress to prevent the pain of hand osteoarthritis from spreading. Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is important when you want to reduce swelling. Warm therapy is essential if you want to loosen muscles and promote ease of movement.

Luckily, nifty packs like this glove-shaped hand pack can be used warm or cold and the gloves can stay flexible while frozen. When cold, it can hold the cold temperature for up to 19 continuous minutes, so this is perfect for icing your hands when they are swollen.

These glove shaped packs are also flexible when frozen, so it works perfectly well with hands that have osteoarthritis as the pain gets “muffled” by the pack’s icy flexibility. 

In the mornings, when you wake up with stiff joints (common in those with hand osteoarthritis), you can pop the glove-shaped hand pack in the microwave for a few seconds before slipping your hand inside to feel the warmth. Your joints will soon feel better.  

2. Hand exercises

Hand exercises can strengthen the muscles that support hand joints. When your joints get that much support, you can more easily perform hand movements. Here are a couple of very simple exercises but bring massive benefits when done correctly:

Making a fist — This can be done anytime and anywhere whenever your hand feels stiff. Start by holding one hand out with all of the fingers opened straight. Slowly clench your hand into a fist, placing your thumb just outside your hand, but do not squeeze too hard. Slowly open the hands until your fingers are straight out once more. Do this exercise 10 times slowly. Then repeat the entire sequence with the other hand. 

Finger lift — Place your palms down on a table. Starting with one hand first, try to lift your fingers one by one while keeping the palms of your hands placed on the table. 

Starting with the thumb, raise it slowly off the table. Hold it for two seconds before slowly lowering it back on the table. Then, do the same with the remaining fingers. After you’ve done one hand, repeat the entire sequence on your other hand.

3. Tools of the trade to the rescue

Once you have hand osteoarthritis, you will slowly notice that chores that were once simple like turning a key or opening a jar are now quite challenging tasks. 

Luckily, there are plenty of tools available in the market to help people with hand osteoarthritis manage pain. 

There is key-turn assistance to easily turn keys in door knobs; there are spoons, fork and knives available with extra wide handles and with strong grips. 

Don’t hesitate at all to use these tools. You’ll be back performing daily chores as you were before. 

4. Compression gloves

One of the reasons why hand osteoarthritis is painful is that the joints, which are already swollen, have loose “footing” or alignment. When you wear compression gloves or even use a splint so that your hand joints don’t have to keep moving and will stay put in one place, you will feel less pain. 

5. Pain relief creams

There are plenty of arthritis creams available on the market. One of the more popular ones to use is Bengay arthritis cream, which is used to relieve muscle and bone pain. It contains camphor, menthol and salicylates, and it reduces inflammation with its cooling and warming sensation. There are other available brands available, such as Voltaren and Solaraze.

We hope we have helped you realise that hand osteoarthritis pain can easily be managed. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!

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