The human hand truly is an anatomical wonder, considering how much your use your hands daily, and all the different movements your wrists, hands, and fingers are capable of. Each hand and wrist has 27 little bones, which enables all the different movements. The bones in the hands and wrists are linked by joints, where articular cartilage – the lining at the ends of the bones – cushions the space between bones and ensures a smooth gliding movement in the joints.

Wear and tear of the cartilage, usually part of normal aging, result in the space between the bones gradually narrowing until bone rubs against bone. While cartilage has no nerve supply, the bone underneath the cartilage has many nerve endings. Bones left bare of their padding rub painfully against each other due to the sensitive nerve endings being exposed. Degeneration of the articular cartilage results in stiff, painful and swollen joints, hampering movement and use of the hands. This condition is call osteoarthritis of the hands.

Causes of hand osteoarthritis:

The three parts of the hand most affected by osteoarthritis are the base of the thumb, the joint closest to the fingertip, and the middle joint of a finger. Several factors play a role in the occurrence of hand osteoarthritis:

• Age plays a major role, as the older you get, the more likely you are to get hand osteoarthritis.

• Gender plays a role, as this condition is in store for half of all woman and one-quarter of all men by the time they reach the age of 85.

• Weight is important, as obese people are more likely to get it than thinner people.

• A genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis can result in being affected at a younger age.

• Injuries such as fractures – especially close to the end of a bone – and dislocations are likely to develop osteoarthritis over time.

• Joint issues such as poor joint alignment, joint infections, overuse, and loose ligaments can lead to hand osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of hand osteoarthritis:

Typical symptoms of hand will probably get worse over time:

• Pain will initially be experienced intermittently, but as the osteoarthritis worsens, the pain becomes more constant and can change from a dull ache to a sharp pain.

• As the osteoarthritis worsens, stiffness and loss of motion may result in being unable to open and close the fingers completely.

• As the cartilage breaks down, grinding or clicking sensations may be experienced when damaged joint surfaces rub together.

• The tissues surrounding the joint can become red and tender to the touch, accompanied by swelling, due to the constant irritation as well as inflammation in these tissues.

• Finger joints can become deformed with large and misshapen finger joints, all due to loss of cartilage and the resulting changes to the bone ends, as well as unstable or lose ligaments.

• Bony bumps or lumps can form on the middle joint or the joint closest to the fingertip.

• Hands can become weak as a result of joint deformity, loss of motion and pain.

Treatment for hand osteoarthritis:

Sadly, there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis and this condition is irreversible. Worn down cartilage cannot grow back or regenerate. Healthy lifestyle habits and some treatments may be effective in giving relief from the symptoms:

• Pain relief by using pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs. Cortisone injected into the joints can give short-term pain relief for weeks or months.

• Medicated creams and gels with anti-inflammatory drugs rubbed on sore joints may give relief from pain.

• Therapeutic exercises can help to maintain movement in the affected joint(s).

• Splinting and other immobilizing devices such as a brace or sleeve can be used to keep the hand in a stable position, in order to lessen pain.

• Modification of daily activities, such as carrying grocery bags over the forearm instead of with the fingers, and adapting hand movements to avoid painful maneuvers.

• Hot or cold therapy may give some relief, for example ice can be used to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain, while heat treatment can help to loosen stiff joints that are not inflamed.

• Change kitchen utensils and other tools to ones with big grips.

• Surgical intervention may be an option in some cases, but is usually the last resort to relief pain or restore movement, such as replacing the joint with an implant, or by fusing the bones in the joints in the fingers – which leaves the joint pain free, but stiff, losing all motion at that joint.

Using food to reduce inflammation in the joints of the hand:

Inflammation in the body starts in the gut wall – determining which foods you are intolerant to and taking a daily probiotic (best from human origin) can help to make the gut wall impermeable again for improved health and reduced levels of inflammation in the hands and rest of the body. The different types of bacteria in our gut release chemicals that can stimulate or suppress chronic inflammation.

Fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and even beverages such as coffee, cocoa and green tea can all contribute to a reduction in the levels of chronic inflammation in the body.

A substance in the pigments that give many fruits, especially berries (such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries and blackberries) their unique colours, contain high levels of antioxidants.

Fruit and vegetables also contain a compound that is deemed to have anti-inflammatory properties, called polyphenols. Foods that are particularly high in polyphenols include onions, turmeric, red grapes, cherries, plums, blueberries, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and contain magnesium, potassium as well as vitamins C, A, E and B-complex vitamins, as well as fiber. Nuts, seeds and beans are also associated with reduced levels of inflammation.

Certain beverages are associated with anti-inflammatory properties, such as the polyphenols in coffee and flavanols in cocoa, while green tea is rich in both polyphenols and antioxidants.

Some oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, are high in antioxidants that can reduce inflammation. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which allow production of anti-inflammatories in the body. Taking daily Omega 3 supplements from a reputable manufacturer can assist in reducing levels of inflammation in the body.

In terms of what not to eat, let the acronym, GPS guide you – avoid overly Greasy, highly Processed and super Sweet foods. These types of food contribute to inflammation and are also deemed to be bad for other aspects of health, such as weight gain, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.


Aching hands and persistent joint problems can turn any of your daily tasks into a painful ordeal. A medical examination and x-rays can confirm whether you have hand osteoarthritis. Your medical practitioner will be able to give guidance on the appropriate treatment options for your specific condition.


Getting a grip on hand osteoarthritis. Published November 2019. Harvard Men’s Health Watch. Harvard medical School. (

Hand Surgery. Published online. Cape Hand Surgery. (Cape Town practice of Dr. Dirk van der Spuy.) (

Treatments for osteoarthritis in hands. Published online, updated 13 May 2016. Arthritis-Health. (

Hand Osteoarthritis. Published 13 March 2020. WebMD. (

Osteoarthritis of the hands. Published online. Arthritis Foundation. USA. (

Use food to reduce inflammation. Published October 2018. Health Insight. (


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