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Arthritis of the Hands

Although it’s a very common condition, “arthritis” is not a single disease but a term used to refer to joint pain or a degenerative joint disorder. People of all ages, sexes and races can develop arthritis. With more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children affected by arthritis, it is the leading cause of disability in America. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.

Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe; they may stay about the same for years, but can progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis in the hands may result in chronic pain and the inability to do daily activities. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes that are visible, such as knobby finger joints. But sometimes the damage can only be seen on an X-ray.

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions.

But what types of arthritis affect the hands?

The two most common types of arthritis in the hands are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). While osteoarthritis is due to degenerative changes in cartilage, RA is the result of an autoimmune condition.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands. Symptoms can usually be effectively managed, although the underlying process cannot be reversed. Staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and other treatments may slow progression of the disease and help improve hand pain and joint function.

RA occurs when the body's immune system attacks healthy tissue that protects the hand joints. The resulting symptoms can be similar to those of osteoarthritis, including pain, inflammation, and redness. RA can occur with no risk factors. However, women are more likely to experience the condition than men. Those with a family history of RA, who are obese, or who smoke are also at a greater risk of developing it; with the most common age of onset being between 40 and 60.

One can also experience post-traumatic arthritis in the hands. This occurs after a person has damaged their hands, such as in a sport-related injury or accident. Broken or sprained fingers or wrists can also cause post-traumatic arthritis. Injuries can accelerate the breakdown of protective cartilage as well as cause inflammation.

So when should you se a medical evaluation for hand and joint pain?

Hand pain may signal a serious type of arthritis that can cause permanent joint damage if treatment is delayed. Know what to watch for so you can take action. If you are having joint symptoms that cause concern, it’s time to see a doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis.

Watch for these potential signs and symptoms of arthritis:

  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness in one or more hand joints

  • Joints that are red or warm to the touch

  • Joint tenderness or stiffness

  • Difficulty moving a joint or doing daily activities

  • Joint symptoms that last three days or more

  • Several episodes of joint symptoms within a month

Some types of arthritis require prompt action. If you have a type of arthritis that can cause permanent joint damage, getting treatment quickly can help preserve joint function and prevent other serious health problems. Sometimes arthritis is difficult to diagnose. Dr. Patrick McDaid is a specialist in arthritis involving hand bones, muscles and joints. His training allows him to make difficult diagnoses and treat all types of arthritis, especially those requiring complex treatment.

For more information or to request an appointment, please contact Dr. Patrick McDaid, M.D. at

For more information about arthritis, visit The Arthritis Foundation at

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