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Arthritis of the hand

Explore effective treatment options for arthritis of the hand


Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects more than 10 million people in the UK. It can be painful and debilitating, often resulting in swelling and decreased mobility.

The condition causes a variety of symptoms that often vary in levels of intensity for different people, but many find living with arthritis immensely challenging. Arthritis can occur in many joints, including your shoulders, hips, knees, and hands. It causes symptoms such as:

  • Swelling in your joints
  • Immobility and stiffness in your joints
  • Pain that gets worse at night
  • Pain that doesn't improve with painkillers
  • Warm, red skin over your affected joint

There are two main types of arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.


Osteoarthritis is when the smooth cartilage across the surface of your hip joint wears down over time. You'll sometimes hear it referred to as wear and tear arthritis, and it's more common the older you get. The wear and tear can make your joint very painful and stiff and can really reduce your mobility. This is the most common type of arthritis both in the UK and worldwide.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) currently affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. It is an inflammatory joint condition caused by an autoimmune process, which happens when your body attacks its healthy cells by mistake. This often causes pain, swelling, and inflammation in your joints. Joints affected by RA are commonly surrounded by inflamed tissue, which often results in chronic pain.

Arthritis in your hands

According to the Arthritis Foundation, around half of all women and one-quarter of all men will experience the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis (OA) in their hands by the age of 85.1

Arthritis of the hands typically occurs later in life as a result of wear and tear (an overuse of the joint through everyday activities and exercise – otherwise known as osteoarthritis). You can also have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands, causing similar symptoms such as pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Arthritis typically affects three main parts of your hand, which are:

  • The base of the thumb, where the thumb and wrist join (this is called the trapeziometacarpal [TMC] or carpometacarpal [CMC] joint)
  • The joint closest to your fingertip (also known as the distal interphalangeal [DIP] joint)
  • The middle joint of your finger (called the proximal interphalangeal [PIP] joint)

If you have arthritis in your hands, your fingers might become larger and lose their natural shape as a result of the condition. This happens for many reasons, including bone changes in your fingers, cartilage loss, unstable or loose ligaments, and swelling.

Arthritis in your hand can make it difficult to complete everyday tasks that we take for granted. From lifting shopping bags, writing or cooking, to playing sport and driving, your hands play an important and often overlooked part in your ability to function.

At Circle Health Group, we offer a range of surgical and non-surgical treatment options to treat arthritis in your hands. These are performed by our network of talented orthoapedic consultants alongside multidisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists and pain management specialists. To find out more about our orthopaedic services, you can call us on 0141 300 5009 or book an appointment with one of our orthopaedic surgeons online.

The cost of treatment for arthritis of your hand will depend on which treatment you have and where you have it.

If you are paying for your own treatment, our fixed-price packages include the cost of your treatment as well as all appropriate aftercare appointments. However, any initial diagnostic tests and your consultant's outpatient appointment consultation fee are charged separately.

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your treatment across a time period that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over 10 months to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

If you have private health insurance, treatment for hand arthritis will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out.

Although living with arthritis in your hands can be debilitating, there are many non-surgical and surgical treatment options available to help manage and even eliminate your pain. Non-surgical treatment options for joint pain include:

Oral anti-inflammatories

These can either be prescribed by your GP or your consultant. They reduce swelling in your hand and wrist, which can lessen stiffness and pain. Your doctor might also recommend using heat therapy (in the form of icepacks or heat pads) to reduce swelling or numb your joint pain. Heat therapy can be used in addition to anti-inflammatory medication.

Steroid injection therapy

This treatment involves injections of steroid medication (corticosteroid) into your painful joint. This can effectively reduce pain and inflammation, and the effects can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This form of pain relief may be recommended if you can't take oral anti-inflammatories for any reason.

Hand and wrist splinting

Our specialist teams of hand therapists are trained to the highest level to make custom-made splints to treat many hand conditions. A splint can provide rest and support for your joint as it heals after surgery. It holds your joint and its surrounding structures in place, protecting your mobility by ensuring your hand is positioned correctly. Splints are often recommended to people with arthritis to reduce pain and stiffness and even prevent deformity.


Physiotherapy for joint pain comprises a specialist exercise programme designed to strengthen the muscles around your joints, improving mobility and – in taking the pressure off your joints – reducing your pain. It can be a highly effective treatment and many people see amazing results.

If you have private physiotherapy with Circle Health Group, we will build a custom programme of exercises to help you to strengthen your joint and the surrounding muscles. Our hospitals are all equipped with advanced specialist equipment to help you get the best from your sessions.

If non-surgical treatments like those listed above do not effectively alleviate your joint pain symptoms, it might be time to speak with an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss the possibility of having surgery for arthritis in your hand.

Your consultant will advise whether hand surgery is the best treatment option for you.

Surgical treatment for joint pain is performed when other treatment options have not successfully alleviated or eliminated your symptoms. Your consultant will assess your personal situation, the severity of your symptoms and how badly they are affecting your quality of life. From there, they will let you know whether surgery is the right treatment option for you.

Some of the types of surgery we offer for hand arthritis at Circle Health Group include:

Hand and wrist ligament reconstruction

We offer this surgery when you have a torn ligament in your hand. Although this is not caused by arthritis, it can lead to arthritis if left untreated.

A ligament is a tough band of fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone. It also connects bones to cartilage (a flexible tissue that covers the surface of joints, acting as a shock absorber and allowing bones to slide over one another). Ligaments are strong but can be stretched or torn.

Hand and wrist reconstruction surgery is performed to treat a torn ligament in your hand, which can occur as a result of an injury to your hand during an accident, such as a direct blow to your hand playing sport. During the procedure, your consultant will replace your torn tendon with a tendon graft (tissue obtained from a different part of your body). They usually perform this arthroscopically (through keyhole surgery).

Surgery for trigger finger

Stenosing tenosynovitis, also known as trigger finger, can cause pain and stiffness when you try to move your finger or thumb. It is associated with rheumatoid arthritis, often causing a lack of mobility in your hand. If left untreated, your affected finger or thumb could become trapped in a bent position, which significantly reduces your mobility and dexterity as well as causing discomfort. During trigger finger release surgery, your consultant will make an incision in your tendon sheath so that your finger or thumb can move freely again.

Arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery)

Although you might be more familiar with the concept of hip or knee replacement surgery, you can also have arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery) in your hands. This involves removing your joint(s) and replacing it with a prosthetic joint, also known as an implant.

You can have joint replacement surgery on and of the joints in your hand, from your knuckles to your finger joints to the base of your hand. The surgery can offer significant pain relief as well as improved function, however it won't work for everyone.

Fusion surgery

Another surgical option for severe joint pain in the hands is something called arthrodesis, which is where two or more of the bones in your joint are fused together. It's commonly known as fusion surgery.

This procedure can strengthen your joint and can significantly reduce pain. However, it will lead to a joint with little movement or flexibility so it's not always appropriate.

There is not much you can do in preparation for surgery for arthritis in your hand, but you might be recommended physiotherapy on the run-up to the procedure to ensure the muscles around your joint are as strong and mobile as possible. This can help reduce your symptoms before surgery and recover faster from the procedure. Your physiotherapist will tailor your physiotherapy programme to your needs.

Your consultant will make other recommendations regarding:

No alcohol

You should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 48 hours before having surgery. Please speak with your consultant about this in more detail.

Changes to your medication

Your consultant will also share information on whether you should avoid taking your usual medication before going into hospital, or the kind of medication you might need to take after you have surgery.

You'll also need to think about how you're getting to and from hospital and have this arranged before you come in for surgery. Perhaps a friend or family member can give you a lift, or maybe you'd rather book a taxi (we'll be happy to arrange one for you).

The type of surgery you have will determine your recovery period, and everyone recovers differently from surgery depending on factors such as their age, general fitness levels, and lifestyle. You will have a follow-up appointment during the first few weeks after your operation for your consultant to assess how well you are recovering and answer any questions about the process you might have. Many people recover within four weeks.

Most people can leave the hospital on the same day as their surgery. You will have some pain and swelling in your hand as the general anaesthesia wears off and you regain feeling in your joint, but your nurses will help you effectively manage this with painkillers. You might have a cast over your hand to protect it from further damage as it heals, but you will still be able to move your fingers. Your consultant will advise on when you can have your cast removed and how to wash with it on.

Physiotherapy after surgery

You will meet your physiotherapist at the hospital after your operation, if not before. They will get to know you and your individual circumstances, and they'll tailor your specialised recovery programme so that it's bespoke to you. This plan will be made up of exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your mobility and the range of motion in your hand.

Your physiotherapist will let you know how regularly you should do these exercises outside of your sessions, and they'll help you source any equipment you might need to help you do them. They'll also give you advice on how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine at home, so that your physiotherapy becomes a normal part of your day.

Recovering at home

If you have a desk job, you should be able to return to work within a day or so of having surgery. If your job involves manual labour, particularly heavy lifting, you should be able to return to work within four weeks, but your consultant will understand your individual circumstances better and be able to advise on this, as well as when you should return to driving.

Your consultant will be able to provide a detailed recovery plan based on your individual needs and circumstances.

It is important to remember that complications from hand and wrist surgery are rare and there are risks attached to any surgery, not just this one. Most people who have the operation will not experience complications.

Potential complications during any surgical procedure include:

  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Chest infection
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Specific complications that can occur during hand and wrist surgery such as wrist arthroscopy include:

  • Pain that persists in your hand and wrist after surgery
  • Septic arthritis
  • Damage to your nerves
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Infection in your hand
  • Blood clots

Serious complications as a result of hand surgery are rare. If you have any concerns about these, speak with your consultant. They will be able to discuss their likelihood with you in more detail and put your worries at ease.

What are the signs of arthritis in your hand?

Early symptoms of arthritis in your hands include a pain that feels like a dull ache or a burning sensation. Your hands might feel warm to the touch, and you might also experience stiffness and swelling. If you have osteoarthritis, the symptoms will typically occur gradually, becoming worse and more constant over time. You might find it increasingly challenging to use your hands to perform everyday tasks as your symptoms get worse.

What triggers arthritis in your hand?

You are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in a joint that has been damaged from injury. Fractures and dislocations are among some of the most common injuries that lead to arthritis, but joint infections and overuse can also trigger arthritis in your hand.

What age does arthritis start in your hand?

Arthritis in your hands can start at any age and be triggered by many factors, but it is more common in women over the age of 50.1

How can you stop arthritis from getting worse?

Arthritis is not usually preventable, but you can manage it better by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime and keeping generally fit and healthy - this improves your overall health and helps improve symptoms caused by the condition.

Carrying less weight puts less pressure on your joints, sometimes preventing arthritis from worsening in joints such as your knees and ankles. Maintaining a healthy diet can also help reduce inflammation in your body, which can reduce pain and stiffness in your joints.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Support by the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more our treatment options for arthritis of the hand, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in October 2022. Next review due October 2025.

1 Versus Arthritis, Osteoarthritis of the Hand and Wrist

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