hands-1434375-640x480The hand and wrist have many small joints that all work together to perform large actions, like opening a door or typing on a keyboard. Arthritis can affect the joints making even the most mundane of tasks painful, difficult or downright impossible.

Without treatment, arthritis can lead to limited range of motion, increased pain levels and can even cause the joints to lose their normal shape. Treatments for arthritis can include activity modification, medication, corticosteroid injections, splinting and surgery.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is inflammation in one or more of the joints. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and it affects people of all ages, sexes and races. The direct cause of arthritis is currently unknown and still being researched.

Typically, joints move easily because of what’s known as articular cartilage, which is a smooth, slippery tissue that covers the end of the bones. With arthritis, the cartilage erodes and begins to impact the hand’s ability to function.

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is more common and is sometimes known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the joint lining to swell, which may eventually lead to erosion and joint deformity

Depending on the type of arthritis, the signs and symptoms may vary. Symptoms often include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Cysts
  • A sensation of grinding or looseness in the affected joint
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Warmth

What nonsurgical treatment options exist for arthritis of the hand?

Depending on the type of arthritis and its severity, a treatment plan will be created between a patient and their hand specialist. Treating arthritis early is important to help manage arthritis symptoms and help prevent a severe loss of hand function.

Medications such as anti-inflammatories can treat symptoms, but don’t restore joint cartilage or reverse damage. Corticosteroid injections can also be used to relieve arthritis pain. The injections are given at the doctor’s office. The corticosteroid is injected into the wrist and after the injection, a patient may experience redness and heat at the site of the injection. The injection may also cause increased pain and inflammation for 48 hours after the injection. After 48 hours, patients should experience decreased pain and inflammation. The pain relief typically lasts two months. The injections can only be used for a limited number of times. Injections are often used in combination with splinting, which supports the affected joint and eases the stress placed on it.

What surgical treatments exist for arthritis of the hand?

When conservative measures fail, surgery may be the best treatment option. There are different types of surgery that can help alleviate arthritis symptoms. Which surgery treatment is best depends on the extent of the damage to the joints, a person’s age and activity level.

The most common types of surgeries include:

  • Wrist replacement – Wrist replacement is the preferred treatment if surgery is necessary. Wrist replacement allows the joints to still function after being replaced. This is performed on an outpatient basis. The surgeon makes an incision to remove the damaged joint surfaces and the radius. They then insert a prosthesis. After recovering from wrist replacement surgery, a patient will experience pain relief and can expect the joint to last 10 to 15 years.
  • Wrist fusion – This is only performed when the damage caused by arthritis has progressed to the point where the joints no longer function. This involves surgically removing the affected joints and joining the bones with plates and screws to help them grow together. It is typically performed on smaller bones. After, the fused joints no longer move, but don’t cause any pain or other symptoms because the damaged joint surfaces have been removed.

What is the recovery process life for surgery correcting arthritis of the hand?

After surgery, there will be a recovery period of approximately  six to eight weeks. Both typically require physical therapy to help a patient with strengthening exercises and to improve range of motion.

A wrist fusion will eliminate pain and other symptoms because it eliminates the damaged joint surfaces. With a wrist replacement, a patient will typically feel pain relief right away. The joint typically lasts 10 to 15 years. The surgeries can increase strength in the hand and increase a patient’s range of motion.

If you are experiencing pain or swelling in your hand and wrist or want to learn more about arthritis treatment options, you should see a physician. To schedule an appointment with one of our hand and wrist specialists, call our Woodbury office at (856) 848-3880.