Osteoarthritis Of The Hand

27 November 2020

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic disease usually characterised by joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It mainly affects the hands, knees and hips however other joints can be affected. Treatment options are usually based on symptom control. Here are some Do's and Don'ts when it comes to improving swelling and pain of Osteoarthritis of the fingers. 

Osteoarthritis of the fingers is usually caused by damage to the cartilage at the joints. Cartilage is like a cushion and prevents the joints from rubbing together. When this cartilage is damaged, moving your fingers causes the joints to grind together. This can cause pain, inflammation and longer term, bony spurs. The whole joint can be affected. It can affect one finger (monoarticular) or many (polyarticular).


Move those fingers - sometimes Osteoarthritis can be caused by a previous injury or movement can seem to make the swelling worse. Hot wax or baths followed by gentle exercises allows the fluid inside the joints to re-enter the blood vessels and also delivers healthy fluid into the joint. Hand Therapists can advise on the best exercises to keep the fingers moving. 

Wear a splint to help with movement - Hand Therapists are able to make lots of different customised splints that can keep you playing sport, music, gardening, work and other lifestyle goals. These can be protective, cushioning or stabilsing. 

Get a Care Plan - Your GP can guide you with a comprehensive plan. This also allows you to access reduced costs for certain Health Professional services, including Physiotherapy and Hand Therapy. 

Discuss pain relief medications with your Doctor or Pharmacist - Paracetamol and NSAID's are often first line medications for symptom control however there are some tricks and tips to use them effectively. Topical NSAID's can also be used for flare ups of the fingers and a Health Professional can discuss how much and how to use these most effectively. 

Consider other modalities - TENS machines, cold therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, taping and massage have all had some evidence to provide pain relief in some patients. 




Ignore the pain - swollen fingers can be a sign of other types of arthritis, infection or bony spurs. It is always important to get it diagnosed by a Hand Therapist or Doctor. 

Suffer in silence - the more the fingers swell, the more you don't move them, the stiffer they get. When the fingers get stiff and you stop moving them altogether, the joints and surrounding structures can become worse. Chatting to your doctor or Health Professional can also help to view your concerns in a different light. 

Overdo it - or do, but be prepared for some swelling and an uncomfortable night! If you are faced with a flare up, consider taking some appropriate medication, icing the fingers with a large cold pack and raising your hands above your chest as much as possible. This will all help to reduce pain and swelling. 


Written by Dee Coles

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