We use our hands every day, which is why having swollen knuckles can be severely encumbering and prevent us from doing the things we love. The knuckles are involved in nearly all functions of finger movement.
When the knuckles become swollen, it becomes exceedingly difficult to flex the fingers properly. Swollen knuckles are often accompanied by pain, making the condition even worse, as it can lead to complete or partial loss of functionality of the affected hand.
What are swollen knuckles?
Swollen knuckle pain can present as stabbing, sharp, dull, or throbbing. Symptoms may present at certain times of the day or arise from certain activities. Depending on the cause of your particular case of swollen knuckles, the intensity of pain will range from mild to severe, limiting movement to various degrees.
Swollen knuckles due to traumatic injury are difficult to move, and there is the possibility of damaged tissue or bone presenting with additional symptoms. In this respect, pain may be localized to a single knuckle that received the brunt of the inflicted trauma.
Several inflammatory medical conditions can lead to joint swelling, which can cause pain and restrict movement.
What causes swollen knuckles?
Traumatic injury: The knuckle joints are a very common site of injury in people who regularly engage in fist fights. The knuckle joint can get abnormally twisted, resulting in a sprain in its ligaments or the fracture of the joint, especially when hitting a hard object. The finger bones are also likely to suffer from fractures or become dislocated.
Osteoarthritis: A medical condition in which the soft tissues of cartilage between joints wear out. When this occurs, adjoining bones in these joints rub against each other, leading to damage and pain. Osteoarthritis is commonly found in the elderly. Repetitive activities such as typing at a computer or playing the piano can irritate the knuckle joints, leading the cartilage in between them to wear down.
Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune disease where symptoms are triggered by an abnormally functioning immune system that attacks healthy cells. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, antibodies target the healthy tissue of joints, including the knuckles. This leads to inflammation, swelling, and pain in the hand. Due to rheumatoid arthritis’ chronic nature, hand deformity may occur.
Gout: A condition caused by abnormal levels of uric acid in the blood stream, either by reduced excretion or an increased production. Having excess uric acid promotes the production of uric acid crystals, which like to deposit into joints like the knuckles. When this occurs, it often leads to inflammation and swollen knuckles.
Fluid retention: Known medically as edema, fluid retention is characterized by increased levels of fluid in the cells and tissues and can be appreciated in the knuckles, making them appear swollen. Excess fluid retention can be a sign of lymphatic system dysfunction, with serious conditions such as liver disease causing the problem. Other potential conditions that affect lymphatic fluid drainage include problems with the kidney and thyroid gland.
Certain medication: Many prescribed medications come with the risk of causing an adverse allergic reaction, which can present as swelling in places all over the body, including the knuckles. Some medication may put stress on other organs in patients suffering from liver or kidney disease, which can lead to fluid retention.
Other possible causes of swollen knuckles include:
- Soft tissue injury
- Venous insufficiency
- Heart failure
- Renal failure
- Allergic reaction
- Insect bites
- Venous thrombosis
- Bone cyst
- Dermoid cyst
- Septic arthritis
How to treat swollen knuckles
Depending on the cause of your particular case of swollen knuckles, treatment methods will vary. For more acute cases, as with a traumatic injury, treating the wound and bandaging it up will often be enough. In cases where swollen knuckles are due to an insidious cause such as rheumatoid arthritis, the use of over the counter and prescription grade medication to control pain and swelling is recommended. Gout patients will be given medication to help reduce the level of uric acid in the blood.
Visiting a doctor is not always required, especially in mild cases of swollen knuckles. The following are some tips to help relieve knuckle swelling and pain from the comfort of home:
- Soak your knuckles in a solution of warm salt water. This will help relieve swelling and stiffness of the knuckles and fingers.
- Use a cold compress on swollen knuckles to help reduce pain.
- Use of aloe vera on the affected knuckles can help soothe knuckle pain and swelling.
- Use of over the counter pain medication can help deal with swollen knuckle pain.
- Gentle massage to the affected knuckle may provide some relief.Swollen knuckles can be a serious problem requiring medical attention. If you have persistent knuckle pain and/or swelling, it is highly recommended to seek emergency medical care right away. This is especially true when swollen knuckles are accompanied by severe bleeding and tissue damage.