Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, however, there are many types of arthritis. Each type has different causes and treatments. According to the Mayo Clinic, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types. Both can cause pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness in the hands.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type. There are a number of risk factors for this type of arthritis. They include:
- Traumatic injury such as a broken bone
- Heavy usage such as repetitive motion
- Genetic predisposition
With osteoarthritis, the protective cushioning between the joints wears out. Bones rubbing directly against other bones can result in structural changes. Bone spurs are one example. Another example is the formation of bumps called Heberden’s nodes at the joint of the finger closest to the nail. Depending on the severity, treatments such as bone splinting may become necessary to correct deformities and prevent further deterioration.
Scientists are less certain about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis but believe that like osteoarthritis, genetic predisposition can be a contributing factor. Other causal factors may include:
- A triggering event such as an infection
- Hormonal imbalance
Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in that it is a type of auto-immune disease. It affects the membrane that surrounds, lubricates, and protects the body’s synovial joints. Synovial fluid produced in the membrane contains hyaluronic acid, albumin, and phagocytic cells that cleanse the joint of debris. The body’s immune system mistakes the synovial membrane as a foreign invader and attacks it. That attack causes inflammation resulting in pain, limited movement, and eventual erosion of the joint.
While there is no cure for either type of arthritis, experts advise regular exercise to maintain joint flexibility. There are specific hand exercises recommended for retaining finger joint strength and dexterity. Some types of hand exercises, such as squeezing a ball, can put too much pressure on joints and should be avoided.
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