Treatments for arthritis in the hands include medications, supportive splinting, and surgery. Typically, conservative measures are tried before care providers explore more aggressive and invasive options. The earlier arthritis in the hands is identified, the more treatment options will be available, and the greater the chance of preserving hand function. Patients with severe arthritis can experience declines in quality of life due to pain and loss of fine motor skills.
People with arthritis in the hands usually notice joint stiffness, pain, and swelling. Over time, damage to the joints can cause the fingers to bend and they may become gnarled with swelling. It can be increasingly difficult to complete tasks, as hand weakness usually accompanies the arthritis. Many patients notice that the pain grows worse on cold days and in damp conditions. X-rays will show areas of inflammation in and around the joints, and a physical examination can be useful as well for gauging pain levels and the amount of function left in the hands.
Medications for arthritis in the hands include anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and limit the damage inside the joints, along with pain management so people can move more comfortably. Along with these, patients may be advised to consider applications of ice and heat as needed to address pain and swelling. Supportive splints can be worn, especially for arthritis in the thumb, where providing some bracing may increase patient comfort considerably.
If these measures are not effective, injections of cortisone into the hand can be considered. These injections will be effective for a more extended period of time than oral medications and they can bring rapid relief for patients with very painful, swollen hands. Between cortisone injections, patients may use additional treatment options to manage pain and keep the arthritis in the hands from growing worse.
The final option is surgery. In surgery, inflamed sections of joints can be removed, and doctors can also implant surgical joint support. For some joints, options like a prosthesis may be available. With a prosthesis, the patient's own damaged joint is taken out and replaced with a plastic or metal replica. Once the patient heals, the prosthesis will move freely and provide the patient with increased comfort. Surgery is accompanied with risks like infection and damage to the network of tendons in the hand. Patients can also experience bad reactions to the anesthesia used in the procedure, potentially experiencing complications because of this.