Hurting with simple tasks?
Arthritis can be debilitating, but there are steps to alleviate the pain.
Vikki Mioduszewski Published: March 14, 2019
When you’re painting, doing routine work around the house, or even just trying to hold a cup of coffee in the morning, do you routinely notice a dull pain in your hand that may show up hours later or hurt into the next day?
You may want to be examined by a doctor to see if you have arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints.
Annually, 22.7 percent of adults are diagnosed as having some form of arthritis. By 2040 as the population grows and ages, the percentage of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis is projected to be 26 percent, or 78 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Arthritis occurs more often as we age and is more common in women than men. Genetics can also play a role. The most common is osteoarthritis or “wear–and-tear arthritis” where the cartilage that provides cushion between the bones or joints, similar to shock absorbers, deteriorates, said Garry Kitay, MD, a hand, elbow and shoulder specialist at Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute.
The joints have very little soft tissue and over time, people can develop deformities in their hands, including cysts and swollen joints. This tends to be gradual and progressive, Dr. Kitay said.
Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that is less common than osteoarthritis, often results in more dramatic symptoms of severe swelling pain and functional loss.
The CDC reports that 1 in 25 working-age adults aged 18 to 64 years face work limitations they attribute to arthritis.
In some cases, injuries can also result in post-traumatic arthritis later in life.
“Just like stretching before and after your run, there are stretching exercises you can do with your hands and fingers before and after your normal daily activities,” Dr. Kitay said. “In the morning, it tends to be worse because swelling occurs more when you are sleeping and not using your hand.”
Steps you can take to ease arthritis symptoms
- Warm the joints. Running your hands under hot water, soaking them in warm water or using a heating pad can help in the morning with swelling and soothing stiff joints.
- Use over-the-counter medications. Nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
- Stabilize your joints. Using a hand splint can stabilize your joint and help reduce pain and swelling. Custom-molded splints made specifically for your hand are also an option.
- Use adaptive equipment. Some equipment can help enhance performance of daily activities, including products to help opening jars or special grips made for utensils or pens.
- Exercise your hand and fingers. Hand therapy or daily exercises are essential. One exercise you can try is to repeatedly make a fist with your thumb on the outside, and then stretch out your hand and fingers. Another is to extend each joint of your digits individually. Use your other hand and bend each joint in each finger.
If these options are not helpful, you may consider going to an orthopedic surgeon to have steroid injections up to several times a year, if effective.
Minimally invasive surgical approaches are also available if other steps are not successful. Similar to replacing a hip, joints in the hand, including the base of thumb, can be replaced. The bad joint can be removed and a new joint added using either your own “spare” tendons in your wrist or forearm or using an implant made of synthetic material such silicone, Dr. Kitay said. Another option is to fuse the bad joint by bonding the two bones on either side of it.
“We don’t have a cure for arthritis, but we do have ways to help people deal with the pain,” Dr. Kitay said. “Be aware of your body and your symptoms. Don’t feel you have to suffer in silence. Take care of it like everything else. You take care of your heart. You should take care of your joints as well.”
If you have hand pain and over-the-counter medications are not working, you may want to consider seeing an orthopedist and hand specialist. You can find one at Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute.