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Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Wrist & Hand

osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis

Types of arthritis affecting the upper extremities include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

The CDC estimates that up to 25% of the population in the United States is affected by some form of arthritis. Arthritis is a disease that causes chronic joint inflammation. The most frequently diagnosed forms of the condition are osteoarthritis, which is related to the natural aging process, and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the joint linings.

The wrists and hands are among the most common parts of the body where arthritis develops due to the amount of wear and tear we put on these upper extremities. Another upper extremity that can develop arthritis is the elbow, especially among people who work physical jobs or play sports that involve swinging a club, bat or racquet.

Although osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are not curable, there are effective therapies that can relieve symptoms and improve function. The USA Spine Care team is dedicated to helping patients learn more about the causes of chronic pain and the available treatments. For more information or answers to questions about the following guide, you can get in touch with one of our representatives at any time.

How arthritis develops in the wrists, hands and other upper extremities

The wrists and hands are intricately built to perform a complex array of fine motor skills. One hand alone has more than 27 joints that allow us to grip objects and perform complex mechanical actions such as throwing or typing. Like other joints throughout the body, the endings of the small bones in our hands, as well as our wrists and elbows, are protected by a layer of cartilage and lubricating joint fluid that enables smooth motion.

Osteoarthritis primarily occurs due to the natural aging process, which makes the cartilage brittle and dries out the joint fluid. As the protective cartilage wears down, there is increased bone-on-bone contact and inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissue, such as the joint linings. The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are not fully understood, but there are genetic markers, hormonal changes and lifestyle factors that can elevate the risk of developing this condition. The hands and wrists are among the most common regions of the body to be affected among rheumatoid arthritis patients.

What are the common symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

The inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid both result in symptoms that can be highly disruptive and debilitating for people. While these types of arthritis have different causes, they do share common symptoms including:

  • Localized aches and pains
  • Stiffness and immobility
  • A popping sensation known as crepitus

Symptoms can still vary among the different types however. Osteoarthritis may be more noticeable on one side or the other, while rheumatoid arthritis has a higher tendency to develop evenly across the body. Anyone experiencing upper extremity symptoms that do not improve within a few days to a week should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Steps for diagnosing arthritis of the upper extremities

The first step in diagnosing any type of arthritis is for the doctor to perform an evaluation. This begins with a review of medical history and questions about family health to determine if there is a history of arthritis. Next, the doctor may perform a hands-on examination to test for range of motion and painful areas.

Physicians will also order tests to confirm the presence of arthritis, including diagnostic imagery and injections. Diagnostic imagery, such as an X-ray or MRI, can highlight narrowing in the joint space of the hands and wrists or elbows. It should also be able to detect any bone spurs, which very often grow around arthritic joints.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis conservative treatments

For any form of arthritis in the hands, wrists or elbows, the initial treatment recommendation will usually consist of conservative therapies. Since arthritis is not reversible, the goal of treatment is almost always symptom management and improved function.

Typical treatment will generally consist of the following basic options:

  • Periods of rest and activity modification to prevent overuse
  • Over-the-counter medications, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain
  • Physical therapy to activate joints and strengthen supporting muscles
  • Corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation for intermediate periods of time
  • Healthy lifestyle practices, such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and getting regular low intensity exercise

Conservative treatments are very often effective and help a large number of people experience a good quality of life after a diagnosis of arthritis.

Is surgery ever needed for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Surgery is almost always seen as a treatment of last resort and only if there is an operable condition. If surgery is recommended after conservative treatments have been exhausted, minimally invasive techniques can help surgeons remove small amounts of tissue, such as bone spurs, to open up the joint space and relieve painful arthritis symptoms.

Learn about osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis treatment 

At USA Spine Care, our team has broad experience in helping patients diagnosed with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in the hands, wrists and elbows find effective treatment. Our goal is to get you back to a healthy and active lifestyle. We have a wide range of conservative and surgical treatment options for arthritis at our state-of-the-art facilities. To learn more, contact us today

Call toll free 1- 866-249-1627

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