Arthritis literally means “inflamed joint.” Normally a joint consists of two smooth, cartilage-covered bone surfaces that fit together as a matched set and that move smoothly against one other. Arthritis results when these smooth surfaces become irregular and don’t fit together well anymore and essentially “wear out.” Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, but it is most noticeable when it affects the hands and fingers.
Arthritis of the hand can be both painful and disabling. The most common forms of arthritis in the hand are osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis (after an injury), and rheumatoid arthritis. Other causes of arthritis of the hand are infection, gout, and psoriasis.
Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand
Rheumatoid arthritis affects the cells that line and normally lubricate the joints (synovial tissue). The joint lining (synovium) becomes inflamed and swollen and erodes the cartilage and bone. The swollen tissue may also stretch the surrounding ligaments, which are the connective tissues that hold the bones together, resulting in deformity and instability. The inflammation may also spread to the tendons, which are the rope-like structures that link muscles to bones. This can result in stretching out of and ruptures of the tendons. Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand is most common in the wrist and the finger knuckles.
Signs and symptoms
Stiffness, swelling, and pain are symptoms common to all forms of arthritis in the hand. In rheumatoid arthritis, some joints may be more swollen than others. There is often a sausage-shaped swelling of the finger. There can also be changes to the position of the fingers leading to problems with their appearance.