Arthritis is a common condition within the population and can become functionally quite limiting when it impacts the joints of the hands.

The three most common forms of arthritis within the hand are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is degenerative and is what is commonly referred to as the ‘wear and tear’ of our joints over time. Each of our joints are covered by a smooth, slippery cartilage surface, which allows smooth movement of the joint, however over time this cartilage can be worn down. Osteoarthritis is more common in older adults and can be diagnosed by your clinical presentation and with x-ray imaging.

Rheumatoid arthritis is different in the sense that it is an inflammatory form of arthritis and caused by an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of a wider age range and can be diagnosed by your clinical presentation and through a blood test. Psoriatic arthritis is also an auto-immune condition and impacts those who experience psoriasis.

Arthritis can affect any joint within your hand such as within your thumb, fingers or wrist. The most common joint that is affected is the base of your thumb, followed by your distal interphalangeal joints, which are the joints just below your nail.


If you have previously had a fracture within your finger, hand or wrist, especially a fracture that has been through the joint surface, you may have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. Similarly, arthritis within the wrist can be caused from an injury to important ligaments, often many years in the past. The injury to the ligament can cause your carpal bones to move and collapse over time causing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by wear and tear of your joints over time as you age without a history of injury.

Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are caused by an auto-immune disease which causes your body to attack healthy tissue. It is believed that there is a genetic and environmental link to these conditions.

Signs & Symptoms

  • The most common symptom of arthritis is pain within the joint. The joint will often be tender to touch and be painful if knocked or bumped.
  • Swelling around the affected joint
  • Reduced range of motion due to joint stiffness
  • In more advanced cases, a visible joint deformity and angulation of the digits can be seen
  • Nodes or bony lumps on the joints
  • With rheumatoid arthritis redness and warmth may be evident


Unfortunately there is no cure for arthritis however your hand therapist can help you to manage your symptoms. The aim of your treatment program is to reduce pain and maintain function of the hands. Depending on the type of your arthritis, it may need to be managed by medications which will be prescribed by a general practitioner or a rheumatologist.

Below are some strategies that may be implemented in your treatment plan by your hand therapist:

  • Application of heat to assist in pain management and help to promote range of motion of the joint
  • Compression wear for pain management and control of any swelling that may be present
  • Custom made thermoplastic or prescription of pre-made supports to support the painful joint to allow you to continue engaging in the activities you love
  • Education on activity modification, such as implementing strategies in your everyday tasks such as jar openers, to offload the stress on your joints
  • Education on joint protection principles
  • Prescription of an exercises program to help maintain your range of motion and strength

If required, there are surgical interventions available for arthritis. The type of surgery will depend on what joints are affected. Some of the surgical options include:

  • Suspensionplasty
  • Joint fusion
  • Joint replacement

Prevention Of Hand Arthritis

It is not always possible to prevent arthritis from occurring within the hands however, you can attempt to avoid it by protecting your joints from injury, avoiding excessive load through your joints, keeping your joints nice and mobile and leading a healthy and active lifestyle.

Melbourne Hand Therapy Can Help You

Our experienced team of occupational therapists and physiotherapists can help to diagnose arthritis from your clinical presentation however, you may also be referred for x-ray imaging to confirm whether arthritis is present. Our clinicians have extensive knowledge and experience working with arthritis and can work with you to manage your symptoms and help you return to doing all the tasks you love.

If you are concerned you may have arthritis or experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, please contact Melbourne Hand Therapy to book an appointment.


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