You may already have some idea of what arthritis looks or feels like in its later stages from what you have perhaps witnessed in older family members or in the media. However, arthritis symptoms can be subtle while the disease is in its early stages, meaning that signs of arthritis can sometimes be hard to spot at first.
When it comes to the first signs of arthritis in your hands, there are some indicators that may prompt you to see a rheumatologist. These indicators are:
- Swollen joints in your wrist or fingers
- Pain or stiffness, particularly in the morning
- A burning pain that comes after increased use of your hands
Dr Naveen Bhadauria, Consultant Rheumatologist, explains: “It is easy to mistake these symptoms for an injury such as a mild sprain, or muscle soreness, because they can come and go in the early stages of the disease, and may even disappear for weeks at a time. However, if you cannot attribute the symptoms to any injury, it may be wise to see a specialist, as early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis can help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression.”
If the disease does progress, you can expect to experience symptoms including:
- Worsening pain and stiffness in your joints
- Warm and/or red, swollen joints
- A grinding or cracking feeling and/or sound when bending your fingers
- An inability to fully bend your fingers due to pain or stiffness
- Bony growths on the middle (Bouchard’s nodes) or top joints (Heberden’s nodes) of your fingers
- An abnormal bending of the fingers that makes hands appear deformed
Types of Arthritis That Affect the Hands
Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint pain and there are several different types of arthritis that can affect the hands, but the most common are:
This type of arthritis is caused by wear and tear to the joints, and is the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage (the firm, flexible connective tissue in the joints) breaks down, which means that the ends of your bones have less protection. The cartilage continues to degenerate over time, which eventually causes the ends of the bones to rub together, resulting in pain, stiffness and loss of movement.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory type of arthritis caused by a reaction from your immune system. With RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissue in your joints, leading to swelling, pain, stiffness and loss of mobility. Active RA can lead to quite rapid damage to the joints due to its inflammatory nature which means that early diagnosis and treatment is imperative. RA usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body; for example, if you are experiencing symptoms in your wrists or finger joints on your right side, you will likely experience the same symptoms in the wrists or finger joints on your left side.
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA)
Like RA, psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory arthritis. It is linked to the skin condition psoriasis, though not all people with PsA have psoriasis, and vice versa. Around a third of people with psoriasis will also have this joint condition. It is chronic and progressive, and causes pain in the joints, as well as stiffness and swelling. You may notice that your fingers swell up and appear sausage-like; this is called dactylitis, and its symptoms may last from several days to weeks.
Causes of Arthritis in the Hands
Arthritis in the hands is often associated with age and wear and tear, but there are a number of reasons why you could suffer from arthritis even if you are young and take good care of your hands.
Causes of arthritis in the hands include:
- Wear and tear, or injury (osteoarthritis)
- Autoimmune conditions (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Too much uric acid in the body (usually associated with gout)
- An inflammatory condition such as psoriasis
Fibromyalgia is another condition associated with arthritis. However, fibromyalgia is not known to cause arthritis, but instead can cause arthritis-like pain in the joints, as well as worsen the pain of existing arthritis.
Will Joint Pain go Away by Itself?
Whether or not joint pain will go away by itself will depend on the cause of the pain. For example, if the pain is caused by a mild injury such as a bruise or sprain, the pain may go away by itself or with the help of home remedies such as rest, application of ice packs to the site of pain, or gentle exercises, providing the injury has not progressed.
However, if you believe that the joint pain has not been caused by an injury, it is best not to wait to see if the pain goes away by itself. Instead, consult your doctor to undergo investigations and obtain a medical diagnosis.
Besides injury, there are some types of joint pain that come and go. You may even go weeks or months without symptoms, especially in the early stages of a disease. These include joint pain caused by RA, PsA, ankylosing spondylitis (AS), lupus and gout. If you are experiencing reactive arthritis (arthritis brought on by an infection in the body, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI)), your joint pain may go away with the use of prescribed anti-inflammatories or physical therapy, though some people may experience a relapse in arthritic symptoms even after the initial infection has been treated.
What to do if You Have Joint Pain in Your Hands
You should see a doctor if you have any new pain in your hands, or if any existing pain worsens. Pain in any joint in the body is not normal, and can be an indicator of arthritis or another condition.
If you are worried that joint pain in your hand may be linked to arthritis, a private rheumatologist can diagnose your ailment by conducting thorough tests and taking into account your health history and symptoms.
Dr. Naveen Bhadauria is available to see patients with joint pain at private hospital One Welbeck in Central London. With many years’ experience in rheumatology, including both common and complex cases, Dr. Bhadauria can provide confident diagnoses and high quality care to support you in managing or overcoming hand pain.
Get in touch on 0207 126 7264 or visit our contact page for more information.