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Guide to Osteoarthritis of the Hand

What is Osteoarthritis of the Hand?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive degenerative condition that can occur anywhere in the body. It can take many weeks to months to develop any symptoms such as pain. Hand Osteoarthritis peaks between the ages of 50 and 60 and are more likely to occur in females than males.

The symptoms of osteoarthritis are usually presented in an older person that complains of longstanding, intermittent hand pain with some of the following characteristics:

  • Pain provoked by activity and relieved by rest
  • Short duration morning stiffness felt in the joints
  • Deep dull aching pain located within the wrist joint
  • Pain with weight-bearing activities such as push-ups

What causes Osteoarthritis of the Hand?

Sadly the exact causes of Osteoarthritis are still unknown. It usually develops due to wear and tear of the joint which develops over time. Repetitive use is often implicated as a cause, however, there is no strong evidence to back this claim. Joints that are lax or that have been injured previously are at a higher risk of developing hand osteoarthritis. This condition is more common in occupations that require repetitive movement of the hands. Contrary to popular opinion, cracking your knuckles is not associated with hand osteoarthritis regardless of the frequency or duration of time.

How is Osteoarthritis of the Hand diagnosed?

The diagnosis of hand osteoarthritis will be based on the presenting symptoms and the completion of a complete physical examination. A series of clinical tests will be carried out on the wrist along with assessing your range of motion and possible triggers of pain. If your practitioner believes you may have hand osteoarthritis they may refer you to get some x-rays which is the gold standard imaging tool when it comes to the assessment and diagnosis of bone and joint issues. Typical hand osteoarthritis x-rays will demonstrate joint space loss and sclerosis in the areas of the joint that is subject to high pressure.

How is Osteoarthritis of the Hand treated?

The treatment for hand osteoarthritis will aim to reduce pain while improving strength and range of motion. Pain relief is the main goal as it’s directly correlated with improved function. Some of the common treatments will involve:

  • Specific exercises to improve range of motion and strength.
  • Joint manipulation and soft tissue work to help improve joint mobility and reduce pain
  • Taping of the wrist or advice on wearing a wrist brace

If conservative care fails to improve your condition, the next stage that can be taken is corticosteroid injection which is aimed at helping reduce the pain and any inflammation that may exist within the joints.


Dieppe PA, Lohmander LS. Pathogenesis and management of pain in osteoarthritis. The Lancet. 2005 Mar 12;365(9463):965-73.
DeWeber K, Olszewski M, Ortolano R. Knuckle cracking and hand osteoarthritis. J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Mar 1;24(2):169-74.
Kloppenburg M. Hand osteoarthritis–an increasing need for treatment and rehabilitation. Current opinion in rheumatology. 2007 Mar 1;19(2):179-83.
Lefler C, Armstrong WJ. Exercise in the treatment of osteoarthritis in the hands of the elderly. Clinical Kinesiology: Journal of the American Kinesiotherapy Association. 2004 Jun 22;58(2):13-8.

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