Arthritis of the Fingers and Thumb
Arthritis can affect all joints in the body. It is a common cause of pain and stiffness. In the hand, the most common joints involved are the base of the thumb and the small joints of the fingers. Arthritis can often be asymptomatic and only result in thickening and mild deformity of the joints. In these cases, no treatment is required. If arthritis becomes painful, then treatment is indicated.
The most common forms of finger and thumb arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis normally affects older adults, and it is a result of years of stress and strain of the joint, often called wear and tear arthritis. The cartilage covers the ends of the bones of a joint and helps the joints move smoothly. Over time, the cartilage breaks down and wears away, leading to the bones rubbing against each other, causing pain and swelling.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes the joint lining to swell, resulting in pain and stiffness of the joint. The condition normally affects the same joints on each side of the body, including the hands, feet and fingers. Arthritis of the fingers and thumb may also decrease the range of motion and strength of the fingers and thumbs.
Early diagnosis and treatment of finger and thumb arthritis are important to manage symptoms and treat the condition. Depending on the joint involved, first-line treatment may involve splinting and possibly a corticosteroid injection. When conservative treatment fails, and pain interferes with function, then surgery is indicated. Depending on the joint, this may involve a cleanout of the joint, joint fusion or a joint replacement. These surgical procedures can be done as a day case procedure in the hospital, and a cast or splint may be used after the procedure. Fusions and joint replacements are very successful operations that can relieve pain and restore function.