Your hands might just be your most valuable tools. They allow you to button your shirt, open jars, feed yourself, and communicate with friends. So, when they start getting stiff, sore, and change shape, it can be highly concerning.
Arthritis is the most likely cause and can rob you of independence.
Your fingers have three joints: the metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP), where the fingers connect to the hand; the middle joint, called the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint, and the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP), which is the joint closest to the end of the finger.
The joint at the base of the thumb is called the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint.
There are two main types of arthritis that affect the fingers and thumb, and the symptoms depend on which type you have.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type, and it is caused by wear and tear that erode the cushioning (cartilage) in joints. Bones grind against each other, and new bone forms, which show up as bumps – called nodes – in the joint. They grow soft tissue around them and expand.
In osteoarthritis (OA), the DIP and CMC are most often affected, and sometimes the PIP, as well. They can become painful, stiff, slightly enlarged, and feel bumpy. This can all limit the motion and function of your fingers and thumbs.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different. It is an autoimmune disease where an overactive immune system attacks the lining of joints. It can often start in the hands at the MCP and PIP joints. In addition to OA symptoms, RA symptoms can lead to severe swelling, redness, and become quite warm.
With RA, it is likely that many joints will be affected, like ankles, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips.
Painkillers are generally recommended treatments, as are hot and cold therapies or exercises to strengthen the hands. Wearing a splint or a brace may help, too. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any treatment protocol.