Osteoarthritis is the name given to age-related arthritis which causes the affected joint to become painful and stiff. The process of osteoarthritis involves wearing or thinning of the smooth cartilage joint surfaces as well as stiffening to the soft tissue surrounding the joint. These aspects combine to produce swelling, inflammation and pain. Several factors normally combine to cause symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Previous joint damage (from trauma or other conditions such as such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis)
- Age (risk increases with age)
- Family history (genetics)
Most commonly, a pain is felt on the top and sides of the affected joint. Fortunately, the presence of finger joint osteoarthritis does not always cause pain so it is quite possible to live pain-free despite reasonably advanced arthritis. In addition, the joints undergo a ‘wear and repair cycle’ so pain can improve with appropriate treatment.
Pain with sustained use of the fingers such as typing or with gripping activities requiring a larger range of motion at the finger joints are often the main aggravating activities. There may be some joint swelling and thickening to the joint. If the osteoarthritis becomes more severe the movements of the affected finger joint may become increasingly stiff.
Finger joint osteoarthritis can be reliably diagnosed by your doctor or physiotherapist by taking a history of your condition and by conducting a physical examination. The main feature on examination is often a reduced range of movement. Depending on the exact symptoms, your doctor or physiotherapist may request x-rays and blood tests to exclude any other causes of the pain.
In the majority of cases, the symptoms of finger joint osteoarthritis can be managed effectively by non-surgical measures as described below.
Regular exercises to maintain flexibility and strength to the hand and fingers:
5×30 second holds, 2x per day
Using painkillers when needed
Over-the-counter analgesia is available through pharmacies when needed. Paracetamol is most commonly prescribed. Anti-inflammatories, such as Iburufen are also used, but as there is little or no inflammation involved in osteoarthritis these are best avoided without discussing with your GP. Side effects are even more common than with paracetamol so please ensure to take appropriate medical advice. There is a good booklet on the Arthritis Research UK website with information about the various drug options. Click here to view.
Corticosteroid injection therapy
For individuals with finger joint OA who continue to suffer significant symptoms in spite a course of non-surgical management (outlined above), a corticosteroid injection can be offered as the next line of treatment. You can read more about local corticosteroid injections here.
Finger joint (fusion) and in rare circumstances joint replacement surgery can be considered for individuals who:
- Have X-rays confirming advanced osteoarthritis of the finger joint
- Have trialled a course of non-surgical management without success
- Have consistent, disabling pain significantly function and impairing quality of life