Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cushioning cartilage that covers the bone surfaces at the joints begins to wear out. It may be caused by simple “wear and tear” on joints, or it may develop after an injury to a joint. In the hand, osteoarthritis most often develops in three sites:
- at the base of the thumb, where the thumb and wrist come together (the trapezio-metacarpal, or basilar, joint)
- at the end joint closest to the finger tip (the distal interphalangeal or DIP joint)
- at the middle joint of a finger (the proximal interphalangeal or PIP joint)
- It also often develops in the wrist.
Treatment for osteoarthritis of the hand:
Treatment is designed to relieve pain and restore function. Anti-inflammatory or other analgesic medication may be of benefit in relieving pain. Brief periods of rest may help if the arthritis has flared up. You may also be advised to wear finger or wrist splints at night and for selected activities. Often soft sleeves may be of some benefit when the rigid splints are too restrictive, especially when the arthritis is affecting the joint at the base of your thumb.
Heat modalities in the form of warm wax or paraffin baths might help, and when severe swelling is present, cold modalities may be of help. It is important to maintain motion in the fingers and use the hand as productively as possible. Hand therapy is often helpful with these exercises, splints, and modalities. A cortisone injection can often provide relief of symptoms, but does not cure the arthritis. Surgery is usually not advised unless these more conservative treatments fail.
Surgery is indicated when the patient either has too much pain or too little function. In most cases, the patient knows best and actually tells the doctor when it is time for surgery. The goal is to restore as much function as possible and to eliminate the pain or reduce it to a tolerable level. One type of surgery is joint fusion, in which the arthritic surface is removed and the bones on each side of the joint are fused together, eliminating motion from the problem joint.
Joint fusion may be used to relieve pain and correct deformities that interfere with functioning. Another approach is joint reconstruction, in which the degenerated joint surface is removed in order to eliminate the rough, irregular bone-to-bone contact that causes pain and restricts motion. Once the degenerated portion of the joint surface is removed, it may be replaced with rolled-up soft tissue, such as a tendon, or with a joint replacement implant. Which type of surgery is used depends on the particular joint(s) involved, your activities, and your own needs.
Your hand surgeon can help you decide which type of surgery is the most appropriate for you.
*Source: 2008 American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Developed by the ASSH Public Education Committee - http://www.assh.org/Public/HandConditions/Pages/ArthritisOsteoarthritis....