Medically reviewed by Nancy Carteron, M.D., FACR— Written by Brian Wu, PhD— Updated on August 21, 2018

Tips for Preventing Arthritis in the Hands

You likely know someone who has arthritis — or perhaps you have it yourself. Arthritis is a common condition. It has wide-ranging effects on multiple areas of the body and can involve any major joint. It most commonly affects the larger joints of the extremities, such as:

  • wrists
  • fingers
  • knees
  • hips
  • ankles

However, arthritis can affect any joint in your body.

What is arthritis?

A lot of information about arthritis has been published over the years. It can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction.

Arthritis isn’t a single disease. The term “arthritis” is used to refer to joint inflammation or joint disease. There are 100 different types of arthritis, all with different manifestations and symptoms.

Arthritis of the hands

Arthritis in your hands affects your wrists and joints in your fingers. You may notice:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • stiffness
  • limited range of motion

You may regularly experience these symptoms, or it may be days or even weeks before you have a flare-up. Over time you might experience chronic pain, and performing simple activities may prove difficult.

Anatomy of the hand

The anatomy of the hand is unique and complex. Arthritis that affects the hand can be painful and debilitating, given the complexity of the hand and the number of joints it contains. Your hands and wrists are made up of several different bones. Two or more bones meet and form a joint. All of the fingers contain three joints except your thumb, which has two.

The bone surface area near the joint is covered with cartilage. Cartilage makes it possible for your bones to pass smoothly against one another as they move. A fibrous capsule lined with a thin membrane called synovium encloses each joint. This structure secretes a fluid, which lubricates the joints.

Connective tissues called ligaments support and connect bones, and make sure they stay in place. Tendons are another form of connective tissue. They connect muscles to bones, which in turn allows the muscles to move your bones. When arthritis strikes the hand, it usually affects these vital parts.

Treating arthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, many doctors feel that aggressive treatment is needed early on, or within the “window of opportunity.” This window of opportunity is two years after the initial onset of the disease, and many doctors aim for six months.

Arthritis is a debilitating disease, and early detection is key. Treatment varies with the type of arthritis. Certain medications help ease pain and inflammation. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or indomethacin (Tivorbex). If you have RA, your doctor may prescribe medications that decrease inflammation by suppressing your immune response.

In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to correct or alleviate certain problems, especially if arthritis is causing major limitations in your life.

Staying active, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and getting plenty of sleep are simple ways to manage your arthritis. Make sure to take breaks when doing strenuous or repetitive activities. Figure out the activities that cause your arthritis to flare up, and learn the best way to manage your pain.

If you do have pain in your hands, you might try using assistive devices, which are designed to take pressure off your joints. Examples include special jar openers and gripping devices.

The takeaway

When arthritis strikes, it doesn’t discriminate. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that by the year 2040, 78 million people will have arthritis. With such staggering figures, it’s important that you’re aware of the dangers of arthritis and, more importantly, the causes and symptoms. If you begin to experience any symptoms, see a doctor. When it comes to getting ahead of arthritis, early detection is the best detection.