Key Points about Hand and Wrist Arthritis

  • Hand and wrist arthritis are common.
  • Hand and wrist arthritis can cause pain, swelling, inflammation, warmth to the touch, stiffness, and loss of motion.
  • The two most common types of hand and wrist arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • There are various treatments for hand and wrist arthritis, including medications, physical therapy, and surgery.
Common related conditions
Hand or Wrist Nerve Injuries Hand, Elbow or Wrist Tendon Injuries

Overview

Pain in the hand and wrist can often be caused by arthritis. Arthritis is an umbrella term for various diseases that cause inflammation in the joints and breakdown of cartilage.

Hand and wrist arthritis are fairly common. Symptoms of hand and wrist arthritis include pain, swelling, warmth in the joint, weakness, decreased motion, and joint deformity.

The most common types of arthritis that affect the hands and wrists are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis and is the gradual wearing down of joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can affect many joints at once.

Treatment of hand and wrist arthritis depends on the severity of the arthritis. Treatment of hand and wrist arthritis often includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), physical therapy, exercise programs, and in some cases, surgery. 

Hand and wrist arthritis causes

There are two types of arthritis that commonly affect the hand and wrist, including:

  • Osteoarthritis can occur gradually over time and is the breakdown of cartilage between bones. Injuries and overuse commonly cause osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, their own immune system attacks the joints and tissues. There is no known cause for rheumatoid arthritis.

Hand and wrist arthritis symptoms

Symptoms of hand and wrist arthritis can vary from person to person based on the severity and type of arthritis.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth in the joint
  • Reduced motion in the joint
  • Weakness of the joint

Hand and wrist arthritis risk factors

There are a few factors that can increase your chances of developing hand and wrist arthritis.

  • Hand and wrist arthritis are more prevalent in people of advanced age.
  • Women are more likely to have hand and wrist arthritis than men.
  • Family history. Certain types of hand and wrist arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, can be passed down among families from one generation to the next.
  • Previous trauma in the wrist and hand can make you more susceptible to hand and wrist arthritis.
  • People who play high impact sports or work in a field where they must perform repetitive tasks are at greater risk of hand and wrist arthritis.

Hand and wrist arthritis diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose hand and wrist arthritis. It is essential to know what kind of hand and wrist arthritis you have since they can be treated differently. During a clinic visit, your doctor will perform a physical exam and take a full medical history. Your doctor may also test the range of motion and strength of the affected joint. In some cases, your doctor will order imaging tests such as:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Blood tests

These tests may be able to determine what kind of hand and wrist arthritis and its severity.

Hand and wrist arthritis treatment

Your treatment plan will depend on what kind of hand and wrist arthritis you have. If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor may recommend:

  • Taking NSAIDs to control inflammation
  • Modifying activities that cause pain
  • Alternating heat and ice
  • Visiting a hand therapist
  • Learning exercises to improve range of motion

In addition to many of the same treatments for osteoarthritis, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may recommend:

  • DMARDs, including methotrexate and biologic agents

If these treatments for hand and wrist arthritis are not effective in decreasing pain, increasing range of motion, and preventing deformities, your doctor may recommend surgery. Types of surgery include joint fusion, joint replacement, and reconstructive surgery.

When to Seek Care

If your pain lasts more than a week, is severe, or is progressively worsening, call your doctor to schedule an appointment.

Next Steps

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan customized to your case. Carefully follow your doctor’s treatment instructions.

If your pain intensifies, call your doctor right away to discuss the next steps. You may need a more advanced treatment option if a first-line conservative treatment is not effective.