Hand & Wrist Arthritis
Arthritis is a group of conditions that causes pain and damage to the joints of the human body, mostly targeting the cartilage that protects the bones. As the cartilage is removed, the bones start to rub against each other more often, producing friction and further degradation and pain. Because of their frequent use, the hands and wrists are common locations for degenerative disorders such as arthritis.
The definitive symptom of arthritis is pain, though the pattern and intensity can vary based on which type a patient is afflicted with. While certain types of arthritis cause consistent dull pain, others cause pain that is considerably worse in the morning than in the evening. Other symptoms of arthritis include swelling, stiffness and loss of movement in the affected joints.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which develops as the cartilage protecting the bones of a joint wears down over time from various traumatic activities. OA is commonly known as the “wear and tear” disease because it occurs much more frequently in older patients. As the cartilage is worn down, the subchondral bone becomes exposed, causing the body to react in a regenerative manner. However, the new bone produced is not functional because it replaces the space vacated by the cartilage.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another type of arthritis that develops over a long period of time. This condition can be identified through blood tests and X-rays, as well as a full evaluation of symptoms. The formation of rheumatoid nodules under the skin is usually indicative of RA, which tends to form over bony processes and frequently stressed joints.
There are no medications available that will reverse damage done by arthritis but they can often relieve symptoms. In the early stages of hand and wrist arthritis, anti-inflammatory pain relievers can be very effective. Other treatment methods include steroid injections and splinting the affected joint
If conservative treatments are not providing pain relief or arthritis-based deformities are limiting the use of the hand, surgery will often be considered. Hand surgery can restore function, relieve pain and improve the appearance of the hands for patients suffering from arthritis. Hand surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia or local anesthesia with sedation, on an outpatient basis. The surgeon will make an incision to access the targeted area. Many hand procedures can be performed laparoscopically, allowing patients to benefit from smaller incisions, less bleeding and shorter recovery times.
Depending on the type of arthritis and the extent of the damage, injured tissue may be removed from the joint, tendons and ligaments are repositioned, or the entire joint is replaced with a prosthetic.
After hand surgery, patients may experience mild to severe pain. Your doctor will provide you with oral medication to manage pain, if needed. The hands will usually need to be immobilized for a few days as they heal. Patients usually require a course of physical therapy in order to restore full function and range of motion to the hand.