The Effects of Arthritis on the Hands

by mrgripeeze on October 25, 2013

The Effects of Arthritis on the Hands 

Arthritis is frequently, but not always painful. It may result in a reduced range of motion in the joint, joint deformity, and loss of function. Although any joint in the body can be affected, the hand and wrist are common locations for many of the common types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative arthritis or age-related osteoarthritis) is the most common type of arthritis. It may affect one or more joints anywhere in the body. Osteoarthritis usually occurs later in life and commonly affects the hands and larger weight-bearing joints such as knees. Osteoarthritis can cause pain, deformity, and limit the range of motion of the joint.

Arthritis may also result from inflammatory conditions that can occur anywhere in the body. The most common inflammatory condition is rheumatoid arthritis. Other inflammatory “arthropathies” include lupus, gout, pseudogout, ankylosing spondylitis, and the arthritis related to inflammatory bowel disease or psoriasis.

Symptoms of arthritis from any cause can include:

  • Pain in the joint. This is the main symptom. Initially, pain will come and go and be worse when in use (such as when gripping heavy objects). However, pain is relieved with rest. There may be days or weeks without pain, but also periods of constant discomfort. As the disease advances, the pain becomes more constant, even occurring at rest. The pain changes from a dull ache to a sharp pain, which sometimes extends beyond the joint area.
  • Inability to move the joint as arthritis progresses. However, sometimes as motion is lost, pain is lessened.
  • Joint motion that is accompanied by grinding, clicking, or cracking as the cartilage continues to wear down.
  • Joints that swell and often become red and tender to the touch. This is a sign of damage to the tissues surrounding the joint and the bony response to the constant irritation. Deformity occurs as these stabilizing soft tissues are worn away.
  • Weakness from joint pain, loss of motion, and joint deformity.

 

People with arthritis will often avoid moving the affected joint because of the pain. A physical therapist can help the patient work out the joint stiffness without damaging it. In order to perform your daily activity the physical therapist will help you achieve a good range of motion. This may involve building strength in the muscles that surround the affected joint – stronger muscles help stabilize a weakened joint. You will also be taught the best way to move from one position to another, as well as learning how to use such walking aids as crutches, a cane or a walker, if you need one.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy help maintain joint mobility and range of motion. How much therapy you need, and what kind of therapy will depend on many factors, such as the severity and type of arthritis you have, your age, and your general state of health. This has to be decided by you with your physician and physical or occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy can teach you how to reduce the strain on your joints as you go about your daily activities. The occupational therapist can help you modify your home and workplace so that your movements do not aggravate your arthritis. You may need a splint for your hands or wrists, as well as aids for dressing, housekeeping, work activities, driving and washing/bathing yourself.

An occupational and/or physical therapist can make an enormous difference to your quality of life if you suffer from arthritis. He/she will help you learn more about your arthritis, devise a dietary plan if you are overweight and overstressing the joints as a result, help you make better decisions about what shoes to buy if that part of the body is affected. You will learn how and when to rest – rest is crucial for treating inflammation and pain, especially when many joints are affected and you feel tired. Resting individual joints is very helpful too – custom splints can be made to rest and support affected joints.
Physical activity can improve arthritis symptoms – doctors warn that inactivity could harm the health of most patients with arthritis or some kind of rheumatic disease. Inactivity raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2. Muscles become weaker with no exercise, joints become stiffer, and the patient’s tolerance for pain decreases. Balance problems may also become worse.

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