Hand and Wrist Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that gets worse over time and is a common cause of pain and disability in the hands and wrists. As the condition progresses, it may become difficult to perform everyday activities like buttoning a shirt or tying your shoelaces.

S. R. Brown, MD is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon with subspecialty training in hand and upper extremity surgery. Though initial treatment for hand and wrist arthritis is always nonsurgical, Dr. Brown can provide surgical options for patients whose arthritis affects everyday life and they have failed conservative treatment.

Causes & Symptoms of Hand & Wrist Arthritis

Arthritis occurs when the articular cartilage that lines the joints begins to wear away. Articular cartilage covers the bones in the joint, allowing them to glide smoothly with movement. The articular cartilage can begin to wear away over time with age, and the bones may eventually begin to rub against one another. There is often a genetic component to arthritis—if a family member has arthritis of the hand or wrist, you are more likely to develop it as well. There is nothing that can be done to prevent arthritis, particularly if there is a genetic component.

Arthritis can cause significant pain and difficulty with daily activities. Symptoms may initially be mild, then get worse as the condition progresses. Common symptoms of hand and wrist arthritis include:

  • Pain, especially with increased use of the hands and wrists
  • Stiffness in the affected joints
  • Swelling of the wrist or finger joints
  • A grating or grinding sensation when moving the joints

As the condition worsens, joint deformity may develop. Eventually, it can become difficult to perform everyday tasks like tying your shoes, typing, or opening jars.

Treatment Options for Hand & Wrist Arthritis

Dr. Brown confirms a diagnosis of arthritis by looking at x-rays to determine the severity of joint damage and performing a physical exam. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis, and there is no way to reverse any joint damage that has already occurred. However, treatment can help in providing relief from arthritis symptoms and improving the quality of life.

Initial treatment for arthritis is usually nonsurgical. However, Dr. Brown does offer surgical options for patients who have not had sufficient relief with conservative treatment.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Conservative treatments for hand, wrist and upper extremity arthritis may include:

  • Oral anti-inflammatory medications – over the counter or prescribed
  • Topical (creams or gels) anti-inflammatory medications – over the counter or prescribed
  • Bracing
  • Oral steroids to decrease inflammation and swelling in the joints
  • Natural supplements like turmeric or dark tart cherry juice to help decrease inflammation
  • Following an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Physical Therapy or Home exercise programs
  • Paraffin Wax Treatments
  • Cortisone injections in the joint (may be repeated every 3-4 months)

Dr. Brown informs patients of all of their available treatment options, both nonsurgical and surgical, but lets the patient decide when they are ready to try different treatments. Ultimately, it is up to the patient’s comfort level and their ability to perform the activities of their daily lives.

Surgical Treatments

If a patient is ready to move forward with surgery, Dr. Brown will review surgical options. This can vary based on the location of the arthritis.

Surgical procedures may include:

  • Joint replacement for arthritis at the base of the thumb or select finger joints – The base of the thumb is a common location of arthritis in the hand, and joint replacement implants have been developed to maintain motion in this joint. The joint can also be replaced with a tendon from the forearm. During this procedure, Dr. Brown removes the damaged joint surfaces and replaces them with tendons or implants.
  • Joint fusion – Other joints in the hand, particularly smaller finger joints, cannot be replaced. In these cases, Dr. Brown can perform a joint fusion, using plates and screws or pins to fuse the bones together. While this procedure can eliminate pain, it also eliminates motion of the affected joint, so it is only recommended if arthritis pain is unbearable.

Dr. Brown performs surgery at an outpatient facility, so patients are able to return home the same day.

Patients may need to wear a brace or splint for 4 – 6 weeks after the surgery, and may work with an occupational hand therapist in addition to at-home exercises. Most patients are able to resume everyday activities within about 3 months, though it can take up to a year to fully recover.

Treatment for Hand & Wrist Arthritis in Murfreesboro, TN

Dr. S. R. Brown is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon with fellowship training in hand and upper extremity surgery. Though initial treatment of hand and wrist arthritis is nonsurgical, Dr. Brown is trained in surgical options like joint fusion and joint replacement at the base of the thumb. Dr. Brown believes that it is the patient’s choice to decide whether or not to move forward with arthritis surgery, and is happy to discuss all options so that patients can make informed decisions. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Brown, please call our office at (615) 896-6800 or use our convenient appointment request form.