This is an extremely common complaint that I hear from my patients over 50. The likely culprit is osteoarthritis. Arthritis is essentially the breakdown of cartilage in your joints over time. This can occur through normal wear and tear of the joint as we age but can be accelerated by other causes.
Factors such as obesity, injuries, surgeries and genetics can all increase the speed at which the joint breaks down. Overuse of your hands and fingers, or the repetition of specific movements is often the cause of cartilage loss as well.
As a simple analogy, think of your cartilage like the tread on a tire. Over many miles, the tread wears down based on the load placed on the wheels, the alignment of the vehicle, daily impact and the type of use. As the cartilage is broken down, eventually the bone and nerve endings are exposed and can be painful. As the joint space narrows, osteophyte or bone spurs may form. In some cases, the finger joints become enlarged and you may lose some function.
It’s likely that we all will get some form of osteoarthritis of the joints as we get older. The severity of the arthritis will determine how much intervention may be required to ease your pain and keep you comfortable.
The first line of treatment with osteoarthritis is to manage the pain starting with over the counter or prescription medications. Physical therapy can be helpful to strengthen the weakened joint and improve range of motion. Many patients find short-term relief with cortisone shots for pain and/or gel injections that lubricate and increase the shock absorption of the joint.
Can surgery help?
When conservative measures no longer work, you may need to consider surgical interventions such as fusion or joint replacement. I will be giving a short presentation on the “Latest Innovations in Treatments for Hand, Elbow and Wrist Arthritis” on Saturday, April 25 at Beachwood Medical Center’s Orthopedic Expo. Please join us for free health screenings and discussions at Embassy Suites, 3775 Park East Drive, Beachwood, OH 44122. The Expo is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm with light refreshments and raffles featuring hundreds of dollars in gift cards. The event is free, but registration is encouraged by visiting https://tinyurl.com/ortho-expo.
Dr. Zimmer is the founding director of Ohio Hand to Shoulder Center with locations in Beachwood, Chardon and Concord. For more information, or to make an appointment call 844-542-6363.