Hand and Wrist Arthritis

The wrist and hand have many small joints that work in conjunction with each other to produce motion. This provides individuals the exquisite dexterity required to tie a shoelace or thread a needle. However, when joints become afflicted with arthritis, daily activities can become difficult. Arthritis can appear in only one or multiple joints of the wrist and hand.

Cartilage works as a natural “shock absorber.” It provides a smooth, gliding surface for joints. With this loss of cartilage, the joint is deprived of its painless, mobile area of motion. Once cartilage is lost, our bodies cannot replace it. This condition is termed “arthritis.”

The body attempts to accommodate the lost cartilage by producing extra tissue in the joint lining (termed synovium). In addition, the joint lining created more of the lubricating (synovial) fluid that is normally found in joints. This addition of extra tissue and fluid causes the joint to swell, thus restricting motion. The swelling also causes stretching of the joint covering, which in turn causes further pain. With time, the bones of the joint can lose their normal shape as bone spurs form. This creates even more pain while further limiting motion.

Risk Factors/Prevention

Statistics indicated that approximately 20 percent of people living in the United States suffer with symptoms or signs of arthritis in at least one joint. Nearly half of all arthritis sufferers are under 50 years old. In fact, arthritis ranks as the leading cause of disability in the country. The precise number of individuals with arthritis in the wrist and hand is unknown.

The two most common types of arthritis are degenerative and inflammatory. Degenerative arthritis (also named osteoarthritis) is most common, and can occur from “wear and tear” on the joints and generally affects older individuals. Some younger patients, especially women, are often afflicted by osteoarthritis of the thumb. Another subset of younger patients who develop osteoarthritis is those with a history of injury about a joint, a condition termed post-traumatic arthritis. The most common injuries that lead to arthritis are fractures, especially fractures that involve the joint surfaces.

The second type of arthritis is inflammatory arthritis, which is often associated with systemic symptoms that may appear throughout the individual’s body. The most common form of this type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, and other common forms are psoriasis and lupus.

The development of arthritis does not necessarily have to result in a sedentary or painful existence. Early treatment is essential to helping the individual maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.


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