Arthritis is a term used to describe more than 100 medical conditions known as rheumatic diseases. Medically, arthritis means joint inflammation, but it also can affect tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles—the body’s connecting or supporting structures. Some forms of arthritis even affect certain organs.

Inflammation is a bodily reaction to disease or injury. This can include pain, stiffness, swelling, and similar reactions related to the body’s joints.

Some forms of arthritis are autoimmune disorders. These are conditions in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.

Arthritis affects millions of people in the U.S. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of the disease.

Arthritis is more common in women than men. While it most often occurs as we get older, arthritis can affect people of all ages.

How is arthritis in the hand treated?

Treatment options depend on many factors, including the type of arthritis, stage of arthritis, how many joints are affected, your age, activity level, the hand affected (if it's your dominant hand) and other existing medical conditions.

While there is no cure for arthritis, the overall goals of treatment are to:

  • Decrease stiffness and joint pain.
  • Increase your quality of life.
  • Improve mobility and function.
  • Slow the progression of the disease, in severe cases such as rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis

There are many lifestyles changes you can make to improve your quality of life, including::

  • Lose weight: Being overweight or obese puts more stress on weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees
  • Exercise: Certain exercises, such as swimming, walking, low-impact aerobics and range-of-motion exercises, can help lessen joint pain and stiffness. Stretching exercises may also help keep your joints and supporting muscles flexible.
  • Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet: Replace, sugary, refined foods, which can trigger the body’s inflammatory response, with whole, nutrient-rich foods. 
  • Alternate between activity and rest: Switching between activity and rest can reduce stress on your joints, helping to protect them and ease symptoms
  • Use assistive devices and adaptive equipment: Crutches, canes and walkers can help lessen stress on certain joints and improve your balance, while reachers and grabbers extend your reach and reduce straining

Why choose Cooper to treat arthritis?

With their advanced training and experience, the board-certified rheumatology specialists in Cooper’s Division of Rheumatology are skilled at identifying the various forms of arthritis, ensuring fast, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Our arthritis resources include:

  • Thorough diagnostic capabilities: A careful, comprehensive medical history and physical exam are key in diagnosing specific types of arthritis. Your Cooper provider may also perform other tests including:
    • Advanced imaging including musculoskeletal ultrasound and bone density scanning to measure bone loss
    • Extensive laboratory testing including synovial (joint) fluid analysis and blood work
  • Personalized treatment based on your symptoms, age and general health, as well as the type of arthritis you have and how severe the condition is. Treatments for arthritis include:
    • Medications such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), prescription medications that may slow disease progression and treat immune system problems linked to your condition
    • Surgery options may include arthroscopy, fusion or joint replacement, depending on which joints are affected; physical therapy after surgery is often an important part of treatment
  • A multidisciplinary team approach to care—Because some forms of arthritis affect multiple body systems, effective care requires a multidisciplinary team approach. As an academic health system, Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you streamlined access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.
  • We train the next generation of rheumatologists—Cooper has a nationally respected Rheumatology fellowship, a testament to the high level of clinical expertise that resides here

Arthritis causes and risk factors

The cause of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis you have. For example:

  • Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of a joint over time or because of overuse
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma are caused when the body’s immune system attacks the body’s own tissues
  • Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints
  • Some forms of arthritis can be genetic; for instance, people with a certain genetic marker have a higher risk of a condition called ankylosing spondylitis
  • With some other forms of arthritis, the cause is not known (what’s referred to as idiopathic disease)

Risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Age: The risk of having arthritis increases as you get older
  • Gender: Women are more likely to have arthritis than men
  • Heredity: Certain types of arthritis are linked to certain genes that you inherit
  • Weight: Carrying too much weight can damage your joints, particularly your knees, making them more likely to develop osteoarthritis
  • Injury: A joint that’s been damaged by trauma, such as a sports injury, is more likely to develop arthritis over time
  • Infection: Joints can develop what’s called reactive arthritis after an infection
  • Type of work: Jobs that involve repeated bending or squatting, for example, can lead to arthritis of the knee

Arthritis symptoms

Because there are so many forms of arthritis, each person’s symptoms can be different. Early symptoms of Arthritis include:

  • Joint pain that doesn’t go away, or comes and goes
  • Warmth and redness in one or more joints
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Trouble moving your joints normally

However, if you have had arthritis in your hand(s) for some time, symptoms may be more persistent and severe. This can include:

  • Pain may change from dull ache to sharp pain. This pain may also wake you up at night and may cause you to change the way you use your hand(s).
  • The surrounded affected tissue will be red and severely sensitive
  • A grating, grinding, cracking or clicking (crepitus) sensation when bending your fingers. This will restrict overall movement of your fingers; inability to open and close.
  • Small bony nodules form on the middle joint of your fingers (called Bouchard’s nodes) or at the top joints of your fingers (called Heberden’s nodes).
  • In the most severe instances, the joints of your fingers may be deformed or lengthened. This will affect the functional ability of your hands and contribute to general weakness

Because these symptoms can look like other health conditions, it’s important to see a qualified healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Make an appointment with a Cooper arthritis specialist

To learn more about the services available for treating arthritis in the Division of Rheumatology or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).