Hand arthritis describes changes in the bones and joints that occur normally with age. This is called “osteoarthritis”. Arthritis can be seen visually through the skin as an increase in size of a joint. On x-ray, the previously smooth joint surfaces become narrow and the surfaces no longer have a regular shape. The key to living with arthritis is to keep the joints mobile. In the morning, the joints may feel stiff. However, forcing the fingers and wrists to move limbers them up, and helps maintain hand function.

Unfortunately, some people with thumb or wrist arthritis have the pain and dysfunction of arthritis prevent them from doing what they want to do. For thumbs, the classic symptoms are pain with opening jars or turning keys. For wrists, the patients complain of pain with moving the wrist up or down. Much can be done surgically for these conditions, but there is a healing time of several months with splints and therapy are required to regain as much function as possible.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a completely different condition that also causes changes in the bones and joints of the fingers and wrist. The treatments that are done are different than what is performed for osteoarthritis. However, the concept that surgery is sometimes necessary to regain function when there is pain, stiffness, or instability in the hand still applies like it does for osteoarthritis.