Arthritis of the Hand

If you have pain, stiffness, and swollen joints in your hands, you may have arthritis.

The word arthritis means an inflammation of the joints. Inflammation can cause redness, swelling, heat, and pain in the joints. People of any age can have problems with inflammation, but certain kinds of joint problems are more common in older adults.


Many things can cause your inflammation. The most common cause is osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis happens when your joints are injured, or when the protective cushion around your joints breaks down over time.

If you have arthritis in your hands, you might also have symptoms of arthritis in other joints, like those in your feet, knees, spine, hips, or shoulders.

Problems with your immune system can cause hand arthritis, too. Rheumatoid arthritis happens when your body's immune system damages your joints. Like osteoarthritis, it often affects other joints.
 Problems with your immune system can cause other types of arthritis, like psoriatic ["sor-ee-AT-ik"] arthritis. This form of arthritis can also affect other parts of your body, like your heart and lungs.

Sometimes, an infection of a joint in your hand can cause arthritis.


You might notice symptoms in several joints of your hand and wrist, or in only one joint. One or both hands might have symptoms.
Some of the joint symptoms you might get with arthritis of the hand include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Warmth and redness
  • A grinding feeling, and
  • Difficulty moving your hands normally

Symptoms may come on slowly and get worse over time. In other cases, arthritis symptoms may start suddenly and be very severe. You might find your symptoms worse at certain times of the day or after certain activities.

Over time, your joints might become permanently enlarged and changed in shape. You might also have extra symptoms, like fever.


To diagnose your arthritis, your health care provider will ask you about your medical history, your symptoms, and how long you've had them. You'll also have a physical exam.

Sometimes this is all a health care provider needs to make a diagnosis. But you may need blood tests to help find the cause of your arthritis.

You may also have X-rays or other imaging tests to give your health care provider more information about the joints of your hand.


Arthritis can be treated with lifestyle changes, home treatments, and medication. These may include:

  • Learning when to rest your hands
  • Learning exercises for your hands
  • Using ice and heat
  • Using splints for the hand or wrist
  • Getting massage or physical therapy, and
  • Taking medication to reduce pain and inflammation

If your arthritis is due to an infection of the joint, your health care provider might give you antibiotics. If your immune system is causing your arthritis, you may need other medications or injections.

You might need surgery on your hand if your symptoms get worse over time and limit your activities.

Things to Remember

Arthritis means joint inflammation.
You may have symptoms in other joints besides the hand.
Treatments may include exercises, medications, or surgery.

What We Have Learned

Only older adults can get arthritis. True or false? The answer is false. People of any age can get arthritis, although it's more common in older adults.

You might need medication to treat the cause of your arthritis. True or false? The answer is true. If your arthritis is caused by an infection or an immune disorder, medication can help treat these problems.