Arthritis of the Hand and Elbow

Arthritis is an inflammation of the tissues that line your joints. This inflammation can cause pain, swelling, and joint damage.

Hand, Wrist, and Elbow Arthritis

Types of arthritis that most often affect your hand, wrist, and elbow include:

  • Osteoarthritis: The natural aging process can wear away at the protective cartilage that allows the many bones in your hand, wrist, and elbow to move smoothly, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This immune system dysfunction attacks and wears away at the cartilage lining between the small delicate bones in your hand and wrist. Rheumatoid arthritis generally affects the joints on both hands. It is less likely to affect your elbow.

Hand arthritis symptoms can include:

  • Pain or burning in the hand joints, especially in the morning and with heavy use
  • Swelling
  • Warmth due to inflammation
  • Nearby joints become unusually flexible to compensate for the affected joint
  • Feeling or hearing grinding of the joint inside the hand
  • Appearance of cysts on the fingers

Arthritis of the wrist generally causes symptoms including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Lack of strength
  • Difficulty moving the wrist

Elbow arthritis symptoms generally include:

  • Pain
  • Limited ability to move elbow
  • Swelling
  • Numbness or tingling in ring and pinky fingers

Along with the symptoms above, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause:

  • A weak grip
  • Difficulty using the hand
  • Pain in the knuckles
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

The surgeons at MedStar Health have the expertise to help you overcome any challenge your arthritis presents. We treat the entire spectrum of arthritis disorders—from early-stage management to end-stage joint replacement—and offer advanced arthritis treatment options, including the latest arthroscopic and minimally invasive surgical techniques.  We will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs and the demands of your daily life.

Read more about arthritis.

Thumb Arthritis

Thumb arthritis, also called basal joint arthritis, is a type of osteoarthritis caused when cartilage wears away in the joint at the base of the thumb.

People who work with their hands and perform repetitive gripping movements are more likely to develop the condition. Massage therapists, hairdressers, or others who work with tools or instruments have the greatest risk of developing the disease. Basal joint fractures or ligament injuries can also increase the likelihood of developing thumb arthritis.

Left untreated, thumb arthritis can cause severe pain and make it difficult to perform even simple tasks. The best way to minimize the damage of thumb arthritis and treat it successfully is to see your doctor when symptoms begin. The sooner you begin treatment, the more options you’ll have to manage the condition.

Symptoms often include

  • Pain felt at the base of your thumb when you grip or pinch something.
  • Pain when you apply pressure to the heel of your hand.
  • Stiffness in the morning that gets better during the day, but begins to ache in the evening.
  • Swelling and tenderness at the base of the thumb.
  • Aching in the joint after prolonged use.
  • A limited range of motion in the thumb, or loss of strength while gripping or pinching items
  • A bump on the joint or an enlarged, out-of-joint appearance

Treatment

In the early stages of thumb arthritis, a number of treatments can alleviate symptoms, including:

  • Oral or topical medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, prescription pain relievers, or pain-relieving gels
  • Icing the area for five to 15 minutes as needed throughout the day to relieve pain and swelling
  • Working with a hand therapist to strengthen supporting muscles and tendons and learning adaptive techniques to lessen the strain on the joint
  • Wearing a supportive splint or brace to limit thumb movement and allow the joint to heal

In many cases, your doctor will suggest a combination of treatments to control symptoms. When medications, self-care, and physical therapy aren’t successful, steroid injections can relieve pain and swelling for several months. Because steroid injections can’t be used indefinitely, they only offer a temporary solution.

When nonsurgical treatments are no longer effective, surgery can offer relief. Most often, surgeons use the ligament reconstruction and tendon interposition (LRTI) technique, which can restore thumb movement and eliminate pain. During this outpatient procedure, surgeons remove the arthritic joint and replace it with a graft from one of your tendons to stabilize the thumb. Because tendons are used, rather than a metal or plastic implant that can wear out, the surgery can provide a long-term solution.

Make an Appointment

To find an orthopedic specialist, call 

855-788-6464


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