Osteoarthritis of the Hand

osteoarthritisBy Marianne Pilgrim, OTR/L, CHT

As summer approaches, many people will resume a favorite pastime: gardening. Engaging in a repetitive activity like gardening can sometimes lead to arthritis, but educating yourself about how to prevent and manage this disease can preserve your joints for many more gardening seasons.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the hands, affects nearly 27 million Americans.  Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage that cushions the bone surfaces at the joints wears down, resulting in pain and stiffness.  The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not known, but joint injury, repetitive overuse, lack of physical activity and heredity are associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.

In the hand, osteoarthritis most commonly develops at the base of the thumb and in the two smaller joints of each finger. Symptoms may include pain, stiffness, swelling, bony nodules and weakness.  Osteoarthritis is diagnosed with a thorough medical history, examination and X-ray.

If you have osteoarthritis, hand therapy can help preserve your joints.   Certified hand therapists educate patients on joint protection techniques, activity modification, stretching and strengthening. They can also fabricate custom resting splints and recommend ergonomic tools for gardening and everyday tasks.  Patients with advanced osteoarthritis that has caused joint damage and limitations in joint function may benefit from surgery.