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What is hand arthritis?

Arthritis is a type of inflammatory or degenerative disease that affects one or more joints and their connective tissue, causing pain, deformity and limited mobility. Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms can range from mild pain and discomfort to severe pain and disability that can affect your job, your favorite activities and your overall quality of life.

Arthritis of the hand is a common condition. Depending on the location and severity of the pain, treatment can include nonsurgical or surgical options. Our center is composed of a highly trained, dedicated group of surgical and medical professionals who employ the latest advancements in treatment and rehabilitation. In fact, our center is one of only a few in the nation that offers fat grafting. This promising new technique is a less invasive alternative to traditional surgery and can benefit many people who do not respond to nonsurgical treatments.

Arthritis may be degenerative, autoimmune or inflammatory. It is often confused with tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

It is important to see a physician who is experienced in the accurate diagnosis of arthritis of the hand and who can offer the many possible treatment options available.

What to expect

A thorough evaluation and accurate diagnosis is essential in treating hand arthritis, a commonly misdiagnosed condition.

During your consultation your doctor will perform a thorough history and physical exam. Additional studies may include:

  • X-ray
  • CT scans
  • MRI
  • Blood tests
  • Joint aspirations

Nonsurgical treatments

Nonsurgical treatments are usually recommended for less severe cases of arthritis. These treatments can help relieve pain and swelling, slow down or prevent joint damage, and increase your ability to function. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine– medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen that reduce swelling can be given to control symptoms of arthritis
  • Steroids– such as corticosteroids to control flare-ups and help to manage the disease, either orally or by injection
  • Lifestyle changes - such as special diets along with vitamin supplements
  • Splinting

If the pain increases and/or your condition is severe, steroid injections are used to offer temporary relief and may be adequate in treating your hand arthritis.

Fat grafting

Fat grafting is a cutting-edge treatment option for patients with osteoarthritis who do not want a traditional surgical approach, or those who do not respond to medication or injections. It has been shown to improve symptoms of arthritis in patients with mild to moderate arthritis. Fat grafting involves harvesting fat from other parts of the body and injecting it into the arthritic joint. Fat cells transferred in this manner may offer a cushion to decrease the symptoms of arthritis and because fat cells have stem cells, it may offer improvement in the damaged articular cartilage. The procedure and recovery are significantly simpler in fat grafting than the traditional operative approach.

Surgical treatments

In severe cases of arthritis, when medication and injections no longer work, surgery may be required. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), surgical interventions should be timed appropriately to maximize function and minimize the deformity caused by arthritis. Sometimes preventive surgery may be recommended.


Complications from surgery for arthritis of the hand are rare and include those of any surgery, such as problems with anesthesia and risk of infection. Additional risks for hand joint replacement include nerve damage and prosthesis failure.


After your hand surgery, you will need a cast or splint. In addition, physical therapy is usually necessary after a surgical procedure to relieve arthritis of the hand. Since every situation is different, your doctor will discuss your particular recovery with you during your consultation and after your procedure.

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