Early signs of arthritis in the fingers

Written by: Mr Oliver Harley
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

Pain in the finger joints, usually while using your hand, may be the first sign of arthritis. In the UK, more than 10 million people have arthritis or a similar condition affecting the joints. Everyone with arthritis in their fingers and hands will be affected differently, while some may not experience much discomfort, others may find it difficult to carry out simple everyday tasks such as gripping or lifting things.

Plastic surgeon Mr Oliver Harley tells us more about finger arthritis and what can be done to treat it.

First, let’s take a look at the finger joints. Each finger has three joints - the joint nearest the fingertip is the ‘DIPJ’ and is probably the most common joint to be affected. The joint in the middle (PIPJ) and the joint which connects the finger to the palm of the hand (MCPJ) are less commonly affected.

You may have arthritis in only a single joint on a single finger but any combination of joints and fingers can be involved. Early signs of arthritis can be joint stiffness, swollen fingers, or small lumps or cysts developing near the joints, especially the DIPJ joint.


Can I stop arthritis from getting worse?

It’s not possible to halt the progression of arthritis. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin or turmeric are widely used and many patients find them helpful, although there is limited scientific evidence to prove their worth.

Medical treatment aims to reduce the pain caused by arthritis. Ibuprofen or similar medication, either taken by mouth or in the form of a gel is usually the first line of treatment. Steroids can also be injected into painful joints and this can be effective for several months.


Are there hand exercises for hand pain?

Exercises can help to maintain joint range and strength in the hand, reducing joint pain such as thumb extensions and finger lifts.


Is there surgery for arthritic fingers?

If you are finding that simple activities are always painful despite pain relief and/or you are finding the joints to be painful at rest, it may be time to consider an operation. Surgery is a day case procedure and it can often be done while the patient is awake.

The arthritic joint surfaces are removed and the joint can either be fused (arthrodesis) or replaced (arthroplasty). With each option, the pain from arthritis is well treated in more than 90% of operations. Although the joint replacement option allows joint movement following the operation, this is typically between 30-50% of the normal joint range.


How long do finger fusions take to heal?

Finger fusions need to be protected from movement with a splint for approximately two months, but early, gentle exercises and activity within a week is encouraged where the finger joint replacement has been done.

For both types of operation, hand therapy (specialised physiotherapy for the hand) is an integral part of the treatment. This typically starts a week after the operation and continues for approximately three months, with gradual increments in the type of activities which may be allowed.


If you’re experiencing symptoms of hand arthritis, consider seeing a specialist like Mr Oliver Harley

By Mr Oliver Harley
Plastic surgery

Mr Oliver Harley is a leading plastic surgeon in Sussex, Kent, Surrey and London, who specialises in cosmetic surgery and hand and wrist surgery.

Mr Harley qualified in medicine in 1998 at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London and since then has gained extensive experience in plastic and reconstructive surgery. He completed his higher surgical training at St Thomas’ Hospital, St Georges Hospital and Queen Victoria Hospital. Mr Harley added to his expertise by undertaking specialist training fellowships in cosmetic surgery and in hand and wrist surgery.

Mr Harley’s passion and interest in plastic surgery have led him to participate in charitable surgical missions to Africa. He has won conference prizes for his research projects in abdominoplasty and in finger joint replacements. Mr Harley has been an investigator in clinical trial work for new Botulinum toxin products.

View Profile

Overall assessment of their patients

This website uses its own and third-party cookies to collect information in order to improve our services, to show you advertising related to your preferences, as well as to analyse your browsing habits..