When Hand or Wrist Pain May Mean Arthritis
Learn about the various causes of hand or wrist pain, including different kinds of arthritis.
Many forms of arthritis and related conditions that affect different parts of the hands. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling or numbness in the wrist and fingers. Pitted nails, painful ulcers or thickened skin that makes bending the fingers difficult may also occur. Here are some diseases that affect the hands.
When Hand or Wrist Pain May Mean Arthritis
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is caused by a loss of cartilage, the tissue lining that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. Without the protective layer, bones to rub together, causing stiffness, pain and loss of joint movement. In the hand, the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the wrist, the joint at the base of the thumb , the middle finger joint and the joints closest to fingernails . In the finger joints, OA can lead to the formation of nodes (bony knots).
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by a faulty immune system that primarily attacks joints (but possibly internal organs as well). The result can be joint pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of function. RA commonly affects the wrist and finger joints. If untreated, the disease can cause joint deformities that make it difficult to use the hands.
Juvenile arthritis (JA)
Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis that affects children age 16 and younger. Different types of juvenile arthritis can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and joints of the hands. The most common type is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when too much uric acid gathers in the bloodstream. The acid forms needle-shaped crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. The first symptom of gout is usually extreme pain and swelling in the big toe. Future attacks may affect the wrist and finger joints. After years with the disease, lumps of uric acid (tophi) may form beneath the skin of the hands.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system creates antibodies that attack healthy tissues, including the joints. The wrist and small joints of the hands are among those most commonly affected.
Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that usually affects the joints and the skin (psoriasis) as wells as the finger and toe nails. The entire finger can become swollen (dactylitis), giving it a sausage-like appearance. About 80 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis have nail changes, pitting, thickening and/or separation from the nail bed. The skin rash of PsA can also affect the hands.
Raynaud’s phenomenon causes the narrowing of the blood vessels to the extremities, usually the hands, when it gets cold or because of a stressful situation. When blood vessels close, fingers become cold and white, then blue, and numb or painful. When the vessels open again, the hands become red or purple.
Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when bones lose too much mass and become brittle and more likely to break, even with slight trauma. The bones of the wrist are commonly fractured in people with osteoporosis. The condition is more common among the elderly and people who have inflammatory disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), are inactive, have a low-calcium diet or take corticosteroids.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
This condition occurs when the nerve that runs from the forearm into the hand and supplies sensation to the palm and thumb side of the hand, becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway formed by bones and a ligament. If the tunnel is swollen, the nerve can become compressed and cause pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand and wrist, that runs up the arm.
Scleroderma, (which means hard skin), is a term for disorders that cause abnormal growth of the tissues supporting the skin and internal organs. These conditions cause thickening and tightening of the skin on the fingers. This can make it harder to bend or straighten the fingers.
Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory muscle disease. Symptoms can include muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, skin rash, changes around the beds of the fingernails and roughening or cracking of the skin on the palms and fingertips, sometimes called mechanic's hands.
Also called Dupuytren's disease, this condition causes an abnormal thickening of a band of tissue in the palm of the hand (fascia). This can cause the fingers to bend toward the palm. The ring and little finger are most commonly affected.
Ganglion cysts are lumps that form next to the joints or tendons in the hand and wrist. The most common locations are the joints at the base of the fingers, joints closest to the nail, the top of the wrist or the palm. These cysts can come and go and may or may not be painful.
Stenosing tenosynovitis (trigger finger)
This condition occurs when the tissue at the base of a finger or thumb thickens, making it difficult to move the finger. This can cause popping, pain or a catching feeling in the finger or thumb.
Talk to your primary care doctor about your symptoms as soon as possible. Getting an accurate diagnosis will help to protect joint mobility and your overall health. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopaedist, doctors who specialize in the treatment of arthritis and related conditions. Visit our resource center to learn more about these conditions.
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