Don't Let Hand Osteoarthritis Slow You Down: Treatment Strategies for Coping with the Condition

Hand osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disorder affecting the hands and wrists and is widely characterized by pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joints. The prevalence and incidence of hand OA vary by age, sex, and race.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of hand OA increases with age in both men and women, but the incidence of the condition peaks at ages 55-64 in women. Women are also more likely to experience symptomatic hand OA than men.

Cartilage breakdown between the bone ends of joints is usually a primary cause of hand OA. Various factors, including age, genetics, and injury, can cause this breakdown. The joints may also appear deformed or produce a grating sound when moved. Now, let’s look at the diagnosis of hand osteoarthritis in detail below.

Diagnosis of Hand Osteoarthritis

The diagnosis of this debilitating condition involves the following:

  • Medical History And Physical Examination

Medical history, physical examination, and imaging studies are used when diagnosing hand osteoarthritis. Medical history includes the patient’s symptoms, medical problems, and medications. The healthcare provider will also check for joint swelling and range of motion during the physical exam. 

  • Imaging Studies

X-rays are the gold standard for imaging hand osteoarthritis, as they can show loss of joint space, bone damage, bone remodeling, and bone spurs. Besides the X-rays, MRI scans can also show damage to soft tissues in and around the joint, while CT scans provide detailed images of the bones and soft tissues in the joint. 

Now that we have briefly discussed the diagnosis let’s dive in to understand the various coping strategies to deal with this pain.

Treatment Options for Hand Osteoarthritis

  • Medications

Acetaminophen can help relieve mild to moderate pain due to this condition. NSAIDs, Corticosteroids, and DMARDs can also help reduce pain and inflammation and help slow the disease’s progression.

  • Splinting And Bracing

The two common treatments for osteoarthritis in the hands include splinting and bracing. Splinting can help improve joint alignment and reduce soft tissue inflammation, while bracing can help shift weight from the damaged joint area. Both hand osteoarthritis treatments are effective enough to improve functionality and mobility.

  • Physical Therapy And Exercise

Physical therapy can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and strengthen the muscles and joints in the hands. Exercises that can help with hand osteoarthritis treatment include making a fist, finger bends, thumb bends, table bends, finger lifts, wrist stretches, rolling back and forth, full grip, thumb extension, and finger stretches.

  • Heat And Cold Therapy

Heat therapy helps to relax muscles and reduce pain, while cold therapy can reduce swelling and pain. Heat therapy can be applied in paraffin wax, hot packs, or warm baths, while cold therapy can be applied using ice packs or ice therapy machines. According to research, heat and cold therapy are done for 15 minutes, followed by a 15-minute rest before reapplying.

  • Surgery

Arthroplasty involves using an artificial implant to replace the damaged joint. The implant is usually made of metal, ceramic, or plastic and is designed to restore the joint’s function. Joint fusion is another type of surgery used to treat hand osteoarthritis. Joint replacement surgery is a less standard procedure used to treat hand osteoarthritis. It involves removing the damaged joint and replacing it with an artificial implant.

Coping Strategies for Hand Osteoarthritis

  • Self-Care Techniques

Rest can benefit those with hand osteoarthritis. Taking breaks throughout the day to rest can help reduce inflammation and pain and give the body time to heal. Additionally, reducing stress can be beneficial for those with hand osteoarthritis. Finally, eating a healthy diet can benefit those with hand osteoarthritis treatment.

  • Adaptive Devices

Ergonomic tools are designed to reduce the force needed to complete tasks, such as writing and chopping vegetables. They have built-up handles and grips that make them easier to grasp and put less stress on finger joints. Jar openers are designed to help open jars and bottles with minimal effort. 

They are equipped with a gripping mechanism that allows for easy opening of jars and bottles. Button hooks are designed to help people with arthritis fasten buttons with ease. They have a hook on one end and a loop on the other that can fasten buttons easily. 

  • Lifestyle Modifications

Avoiding activities that strain the joints, such as lifting heavy objects, can help reduce pain and inflammation. Additionally, modifying activities to reduce stress on the joints can also be beneficial. Furthermore, low-impact exercises, such as swimming, biking, and walking, can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and improve flexibility. 

Prevention and Future Research

  • Maintaining A Healthy Weight

Excess weight puts extra strain on the joints, leading to osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that even small amounts of weight loss can reduce the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, weight loss has been shown to decrease pain substantially in those with knee osteoarthritis. 

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that overweight and obese individuals who lost weight experienced decreased pain, improved function, and slowed the progression of osteoarthritis.

  • Avoid Pushing And Pulling

Avoiding pushing and pulling can help prevent hand osteoarthritis by reducing hand strain. It is because pushing and pulling can place a lot of stress on the joints in the hands, leading to inflammation and pain.

  • Use Both Hands If Possible

Using both hands when possible is essential to preventing hand osteoarthritis. When one hand is used for a repetitive task, the other is used to rest and reduce the strain on the affected hand. It helps to reduce the amount of stress on the joints and muscles, which can help to prevent the onset of osteoarthritis. 

For instance, if someone is using their dominant hand to type on a computer, they can use their other hand to rest and stretch their fingers in between typing sessions. It can help to reduce the strain on the affected hand and improve the range of motion.

Conclusion

To sum up, hand osteoarthritis can be challenging to cope with. Still, there is hand osteoarthritis treatment essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized hand osteoarthritis treatment plan that meets your individual needs and goals. 

By following a comprehensive approach that includes medical interventions and self-management strategies, you can minimize the impact of hand osteoarthritis on your daily life and continue to enjoy the activities you love.

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