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What is Finger Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis refers to the wearing away of the smooth cartilage that normally covers the ends of the bones in a joint. It can occur in any part of the body, though the fingers and hand remain the most commonly affected, due to genetics and their heavy usage in daily activities.

This condition leaves a roughened joint surface that causes pain and swelling due to the abrasive surfaces and the body’s own inflammatory reaction. Excess bone (osteophytes) may also appear as part of the degenerative process.

Persistent joint degeneration and inflammation ultimately lead to stiffness of the joint. Osteoarthritis can develop with age or stress to the joints.

Characteristics and Clinical Presentation of Finger Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative or progressive joint disease caused by inflammation and wearing of cartilage. It may develop with age or as a response to acute or chronic trauma. Pain and swelling are common symptoms.  More advanced joint degeneration can lead to a visible deformity from osteophytes. Severely arthritic joints become stiff and difficult and painful to move. Symptoms usually present in middle age or older. Fortunately, most finger arthritis has little or no pain.

There are two types of finger osteoarthritis:

  • Primary finger osteoarthritis: the cartilage covering the ends of bones begins to wear away and become inflamed due to genetic predisposition.
  • Secondary finger osteoarthritis:the joints can become misaligned as they heal from an injury such as a tear or sprain, causing inflammation.

The underlying reason for osteoarthritis of the fingers is little-understood, likely due to a genetic predisposition that leads to wearing out of the finger joints after years of use. A traumatic injury to a finger joint can also cause subsequent arthritis.  Athletes who practice physical contact sports are also at a pronounced risk.

Some risk factors include:

  • Acute physical trauma to the digit.
  • Falls or impact injuries during sports.
  • Automobile accidents.
  • Falling, excessive bending and twisting injuries.

Osteoarthritis can affect any of the joints in the hand, though some may be more affected than others, such as distal interphalangeal and trapeziometacarpal joints.

Symptoms include:

  • Stiffness, limited range-of-motion, or decreased grip strength.

Getting a Diagnosis for Finger Osteoarthritis

Diagnosing finger osteoarthritis is based on medical history, physical exam, imaging tests such as X-rays, and sometimes MRI or blood tests. Your surgeon will want to know if you have a history of chronic or acute pain in the fingers while evaluating your range of motion in the affected fingers and other signs.

Imaging tests such as X-rays may be needed to visualize the dense, bony structures of the hand and wrist. Blood tests are beneficial in finding inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, when suspected.

Treatment Options for Finger Osteoarthritis

While osteoarthritis is not reversible, treatment may help to reduce the discomfort. Pain from osteoarthritis can be managed with treatment using NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories when tolerated, and temporary splinting, and occupational therapy. Sometimes, treatment may involve physical therapy to improve ergonomics and range of motion. In some cases, surgical intervention may be useful.

Conservative Treatments

Cases of mild to moderate osteoarthritis can be managed with a temporary reduction in activity of the hand, anti-inflammatory medications, occupational therapy, and sometimes a cortisone injection. This regimen can allow continued use of the hand with reduction in the limits posed by the underlying osteoarthritis. Severe cases of crippling, chronic pain and an extensively degenerated joint on x-ray may indicate the need for surgery.

Wearing splints specifically designed for the hand may be beneficial during resting periods.

Surgical Treatments

The goal of surgery for osteoarthritis is to relieve pain and restore range of motion. Cases of mild to moderate symptoms can be managed with a temporary reduction in activity, anti-inflammatory medications, occupational therapy, and cortisone injection. This will allow for continued use of the hand minimizing osteoarthritis limiting you. Surgical options for finger osteoarthritis include arthrodesis or joint replacement, depending on the joint.

Preventing Finger Osteoarthritis

Protecting your hands from injuries is vital to the long-term health of your hands. Some injuries sustained from sports activities can be mitigated with properly fitted-safety gear and periods of immobility with tape, a splint or a cast during rest. Allowing your hands to rest between repetitive hand movements can also aid in preventing long-term inflammation to the joints.

Some modifiable factors for mitigating osteoarthritis include:

  • Managing occupational risks that involve repetitive forceful movements in the hand.
  • Utilize low-impact exercise with activities that include strength training and stretching.
  • Get adequate amounts of rest for joints to recover from physical activity.

Prognosis for Finger Osteoarthritis

Although finger osteoarthritis is not curable and may be unavoidable due to age to some extent, it is possible to treat. Through proper medical supervision, osteoarthritis can be managed with occupational therapy, pain management, and prudence.

Surgical intervention requires several weeks or more to heal. Physical therapy is usually recommended to maximize mobility and function.

If You Believe You Have Finger Osteoarthritis, Contact HandSport Surgery Institute.

Please contact us to schedule an appointment with our talented team. People who have been hurt should be evaluated to try and prevent further injury and mobility issues.

If you have been injured, it’s important to be evaluated by a highly skilled professional. Call Drs. Mark and Jason Pruzansky at 212-249-8700 to schedule an appointment and obtain an accurate diagnosis.

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