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Best Treatment for Arthritis in the Hands

The hand has many small joints that allow us to make fine motor movements. With time or overuse, these joints can become inflamed, making normal daily activity difficult.

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. There are many different types of arthritis, but two of the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is often known as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. The protective cartilage that covers the ends of the bones is gradually worn away, leading to bone grinding on bone, which causes inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes the synovial lining of a joint to swell, which leads to pain, but also stiffness in the joint.

Trauma, such as a fracture, meniscus tear, or injury to a ligament can make a joint more susceptible to developing arthritis similar to osteoarthritis.

Symptoms usually begin slowly, with a dull, sometimes burning sensation, noticeable particularly after increased use of the joint. These symptoms, along with stiffness, can be worse in the mornings. If you suspect you may be developing arthritis, it is important to get early treatment to enable you to continue your normal activities.

Nonsurgical treatment can include injection, splinting, and medication, and your treatment will be based upon your particular condition.

Injection: These are generally a combination of a long-lasting anesthetic and a steroid, which can give relief from pain for a period lasting months. Possible side effects such as weakening of tendons and ligaments, or infection, limit the use of injections to only a few times.

Splinting: This treatment is usually combined with injections. The splint supports the hand by reducing stress placed upon the affected joints. A splint can be worn during periods of joint pain, but not for too long as overreliance on the splint can lead to deterioration of the muscles. As muscles support and stabilize joints it is important to keep them strong.

Medication: These are anti-inflammatories such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which help to reduce the body’s inflammatory response of swelling and pain. Many people take glucosamine (a neutraceutical, not a drug) for arthritis, although they have not yet been studied for their effectiveness in helping hand arthritis. If you wish to try neutraceuticals or any other dietary supplement, please consult your doctor as they can sometimes cause negative reactions with prescribed drugs.

Surgery: If nonsurgical methods fail to provide relief, surgery may be considered. The affected joint may be preserved, reconstructed or, if the joint is beyond repair, a replacement or fusion might be performed.

Ideally, the joint will be preserved. This can be dependent on early diagnosis. Arthroscopic surgery (a technique using small incisions and tiny, precise instruments) is becoming more common and has the benefit of a faster recovery time due to the lesser overall trauma of the procedure.

A fusion will eliminate pain, but the joint will no longer function.

Surgery to replace a hand joint is similar to a hip or knee replacement, with the replacement joints being made from long-lasting materials.

Postoperative treatment consists of splinting the hand temporarily, pain relief through medication, and physical therapy to regain maximum use of the hand.

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