What Are The Different Types Of Arthritis In The Hand?

Arthritis can be a debilitating disease, especially arthritis in your hands. Most people use their hands and fingers constantly throughout the day. Suffering from pain in your joints can make accomplishing any task that much harder. How does arthritis develop in your hands, what are the different types of arthritis, and are there treatment plans available to help? These are all great questions to ask yourself if you are experiencing pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints.

What Is Arthritis?

types of arthritis

Image via Flickr by handarmdoc

Arthritis can happen when joint and soft tissues are inflamed and can be chronic (long term) or acute (short term). As arthritis worsens, it can cause the cartilage in your joints to wear down to almost nothing leaving bone rubbing against bone. Arthritis can also be genetic, or a person who has suffered an injury, like a broken finger, can also develop arthritis in that joint.

Arthritis is generally painful; however, it can also be silent. A person who has arthritis may experience joint deformity, a decrease in range of motion, and could lose function of that joint. Arthritis can develop in any part of the body, but the most common places are the wrists and hands.

Arthritis That Affects the Hands

Several types of arthritis can affect your joints, specifically the hands. Understanding which type you have will help with treatment options.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. RA occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, resulting in inflammation. Symptoms can be gradual or come on suddenly and include swelling, pain, and stiffness in your hands, wrists, shoulders, ankles, elbows, neck, or jaw. Most of the time, RA will affect more than one joint. It will symmetrically affect the joints, meaning if it’s in your left knuckle, it’ll show up in your right knuckle. Other signs are fatigue, loss of weight due to no appetite, joints feeling warm, and morning stiffness in the joint that can last for hours.

Psoriatic Arthritis

This type of arthritis is almost a double whammy. Psoriasis is when your skin suffers from inflammation which can cause the skin to develop a scaly rash, which usually appears first. It can cause the fingers to swell and, in turn, arthritis to set in. Psoriasis arthritis typically develops in people between 30 and 50 years old. Another symptom is pitted fingernails that are discolored. Psoriatic arthritis also generally only affects one joint or, at times, a couple.

Gout-Induced Arthritis

Gout occurs when uric acid crystals build up in your joints. This build-up can happen because your body makes too much uric acid so your kidneys cannot process it, or you could be eating many foods high in purines, increasing your body’s uric acid production. Gout usually occurs as a sudden pain in the middle of the night, starting out being infrequent and may last three to ten days. Flare-ups may begin to increase, and if it’s left untreated for too long, arthritis could set in. If you suffer from gout, you could experience tenderness, swelling, discomfort, redness, stiffness, and inflammation.


Lupus, an autoimmune disease, can affect your joints. Your immune system stops attacking viruses and other unwanted invaders and begins sending pain and inflammation signals to parts of your body. Lupus usually occurs more frequently in women and starts to show up between ages 15 and 44. There are countless symptoms that a person with lupus might experience. Some of them are hair loss, anemia, headaches, fatigue, and of course, swelling of your joints.


Osteoarthritis is the odd man out. Osteoarthritis does not stem from inflammation; instead, it occurs due to wear and tear on the joints as a degenerative disorder. Osteoarthritis usually shows up in your dominant hand as this is the hand that is used the most. This type of arthritis does not exhibit redness and warmth. Although the pain can be just as severe as inflammatory arthritis, it does not last for as long, with most flare-ups lasting between five and 15 minutes.


If you’re experiencing joint pain, you may want to make a doctor’s appointment to get it checked out. Your doctor will review your medical records, conduct a physical examination, carry out blood tests, and complete imaging to determine if arthritis is present. During the physical examination, the doctor will touch the affected area. If it’s soft and squishy to the touch, it’s generally inflammatory arthritis. If the site is firmer, it’s more likely to be osteoarthritis, as the cartilage has broken down, the bone on bone contact causing pain.

The doctor should schedule some imaging. X-rays and MRIs can detect the presence of arthritis. If it’s determined that you have inflammatory arthritis, the doctor should complete some blood tests looking for specific antibodies. The antibodies will help narrow down the type of arthritis you’re experiencing.

Once the doctor has identified arthritis, treatment can start. First, you should be prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication to provide you some comfort as the pain and swelling will be reduced. Patients could also benefit from cortisone injections, particularly beneficial for when the arthritis is in a few joints. Both of these methods can be used for osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis like RA. In severe cases, arthritis surgery may be an option to clean, replace, or fuse the joint.

If the pain does not warrant a trip to the doctor’s office, some at-home remedies can be taken to help alleviate it. It’s best to alternate between ice and heat to reduce swelling and help with pain management. Working with a heat therapist can help you learn how to manage everyday activities easier and reduce the stress in the affected area. Taking over-the-counter medication to relieve the pain and swelling is also an option.

Arthritis is a disease you want to avoid because your hands and fingers are a vital to carrying out day-to-day activities. Suffering from pain and swelling is not something you’ll want to deal with day in and day out. If you’re experiencing joint pain in your hands, reach out to the knowledgeable team at The Hand and Wrist Institute. We specialize in the treatment of the hands and can discuss options with you regarding your joint pain. Contact us online or give us a call at 855-558-4263.

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.