You have osteoarthritis in your hands. What can you expect?

Typically, osteoarthritis develops in woman after menopause. You may experience the onset or increase in symptoms during this time. Osteoarthritis of the hands typically develops in three locations: the base of the thumb, and the end and middle joints of the fingers. In addition to individual fingers, you may also develop osteoarthritis symptoms in the wrist [source: ASSH].

You use your hands for almost every task in day-to-day functioning. This can make the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis of the hands very distressing. If you have osteoarthritis of the hands, you will likely experience hand pain, swelling and stiffness. These symptoms may vary depending on the severity of your condition. Many people with osteoarthritis of the hands also develop small bony nodules around the finger end joints, known as Heberden's nodes. Similar nodes can develop around the finger middle joints, known as Bouchard's nodes. Your hands may look large and malformed due to swelling and bony nodules [source: NIAMS].


Many people with osteoarthritis of the hands also experience a throbbing or aching pain at the base of the thumb. You may also notice swelling around this region of the hand [source: ASSH]. Due to pain, swelling and stiffness, you will likely experience decreased hand function. In particular, you may experience a weak grip [source: ASSH]. For example, you may find it hard to hold onto a hand rail, a mug or perhaps a phone. Other everyday tasks may prove especially difficult, such as opening jars, turning doorknobs, writing and typing.

Your doctor can easily diagnose osteoarthritis of the hands and he may order X-rays, which helps determine the severity of bone malformation and narrowing joint space [source: ASSH]. If you're diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hands, your doctor will likely prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers as a first line of intervention [source: ASSH].