Arthritis in the fingers can cause symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling. Medical treatments as well as hand and finger exercises may help relieve symptoms.

Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints, including those in the hands and fingers.

This article examines the symptoms of arthritis in the fingers. It also provides information on exercises and treatments that may offer symptom relief.

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The following pictures show different types of arthritis and how certain symptoms may appear. This includes:

  • psoriatic arthritis
  • swelling of the fingers
  • Boutonniere deformity
  • nail changes
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon

The sections below describe 12 symptoms that someone with arthritis in the fingers may experience. The following symptoms are in no particular order.

1. Pain

Pain is a common early symptom of arthritis in the hands and fingers, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). This tends to be a dull, burning pain.

The pain is often worse after activities that require the use of the finger joints. For example, activities that require grasping or gripping an object, such as opening a jar, may make pain worse.

2. Swelling

Joints may swell with overuse. Sometimes, the swelling can get so severe that it limits a person’s use of their hand and fingers. Swelling may occur either during extensive use of the joints or several hours after use, the AAOS says.

The skin around the finger joints may also look red and puffy, and it might hurt to touch the area.

3. Warm to the touch

Swelling can also cause the joints to feel warm to the touch. This happens as a result of inflammation.

4. Stiffness

The joints of the fingers may feel stiff, and people may have trouble moving their fingers freely.

This can particularly affect a person’s ability to perform daily tasks, as the stiffness may reduce the range of motion in the fingers. This may cause them to find it difficult to grasp objects.

5. Bending of the middle joint

People with severe arthritis may experience irregularities in the finger joints.

One specific type is the Boutonniere deformity. Fingers with this kind of structural difference will bend at the middle joint and will not straighten. It can affect the middle, index, ring, and little fingers.

6. Numbness and tingling

Tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers — particularly the first finger, second finger, and part of the third finger — is a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. Any tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers is more likely due to ulnar nerve compression.

7. Bumps in the fingers

Osteoarthritis can cause bumps to form on the fingers.

Bouchard’s nodes form in the middle of the fingers, while Heberden’s nodes form at the ends of the fingers.

8. Weakness

Some people may also experience weakness in the hands and fingers. This makes it difficult to open jars or grasp objects. A person may also have trouble turning on faucets and twisting keys in a lock.

9. Rash

Some types of arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, may cause a rash that can affect the hands.

This rash may look flaky and scale-like, and it may happen alongside swelling.

10. Nail changes

Some people with psoriatic arthritis may experience a change in the appearance of their nails.

This may include thickening and pits in the nail. Sometimes, the nails may separate from the nail bed.

11. Cold fingers

Some people with immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus may develop Raynaud’s phenomenon. This condition causes discoloration in the fingers and increased sensitivity to cold temperatures.

It is worth noting that stress and cold temperatures can also trigger Raynaud’s phenomenon.

12. Audible noises

When there is cartilage damage in the finger joints, a person may hear audible grating or grinding noises. This is known as crepitus.

Read more about early signs of arthritis.

Hand and finger exercises may provide relief from pain and stiffness, and they may also improve hand movement.

One 2017 study suggests that people should continuously practice the exercises, though, as the beneficial effects can wear off with time. People should try to perform these exercises several times per day, but they should stop if they feel any discomfort or pain.

Here are a few exercises for arthritis in the fingers:

  • Making a fist: Start with the fingers straight, then bend them into a fist with the thumb on the outside. Avoid squeezing too tight. Keep the fingers in a fist for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
  • Thumb bends: This exercise helps mobility in people with very stiff thumbs. To perform this exercise, bend the thumb toward the palm. Reach as far as possible and hold the position. Release, then repeat.
  • Finger bends: This exercise involves bending each finger onto the palm. Bend one finger at a time. Hold each position for a few seconds, then release and repeat with the next finger.
  • Squeezes: To relieve stiffness in the fingers, gently squeeze a stress ball.
  • Finger and hand shapes: To increase mobility and reduce stiffness in the fingers, move the fingers into “O” or “C” shapes. Hold the shape for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
  • Finger lifts: This exercise involves putting the palms flat on a surface and gently spreading the fingers. Then, one at a time, lift each finger off the surface. Slowly lower each finger back down and repeat with the next one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends avoiding activities that put strain on the joints. Low impact exercises are generally a better option for people with arthritis. It is also a good idea to stay away from repetitive movements and motions that twist the joints.

Treatment will depend on the kind of arthritis a person has, as well as its severity. However, it usually involves one or more of the following options:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs can help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. They are available to take both orally and topically.
  • Steroid injections: A doctor may administer corticosteroid injections when NSAIDs do not work or are not suitable.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Doctors may treat rheumatoid arthritis with specific drugs called DMARDs. These can help with autoimmune conditions.
  • Splinting: Using a splint can help support and reduce stress on the joints. Typically, splints still allow people to move and use their fingers. People with arthritis in the fingers can use a ring splint for support.
  • Surgery: If the joint damage is very severe, surgery may be the only treatment option. Joint replacements relieve pain and restore the function of the joint, whereas joint fusions relieve pain but eliminate joint function.

Read more about treatment for arthritis.

According to the CDC, some known causes and risk factors associated with arthritis include:

  • Injury: Repetitive activities and acute injuries can cause joint damage and lead to arthritis.
  • Smoking: People who smoke have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Infection: Certain viral or bacterial infections may cause joint damage and lead to arthritis.
  • Age: Older adults are at higher risk of developing arthritis.

Read about causes of arthritis in the fingers.

The CDC suggests that people talk with a healthcare professional if they experience any symptoms of arthritis.

Receiving a diagnosis as early as possible can help the healthcare professional create a treatment plan before the symptoms worsen. Without treatment, arthritis can cause lasting joint damage.

A person should also contact a healthcare professional if joint pain and swelling do not go away and other symptoms recur throughout the month.

A person’s outlook depends on the type of arthritis they have. However, it is possible to treat and manage the symptoms of the condition.

Arthritis currently has no cure. It is a chronic condition, which means that it requires long-term management. However, various treatment options can help reduce arthritis-related pain, swelling, and inflammation.

It is possible for a person to decrease their risk of developing arthritis in the hands and fingers by:

  • taking care of the hands and fingers after sustaining any injuries
  • exercising the hands regularly
  • not smoking

Arthritis resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for arthritis, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?

Arthritis in the hands and fingers is a painful condition, and people who do not seek treatment early on may experience a loss of mobility and joint function. In severe cases, joint irregularities can also occur.

However, many treatment options are available, including steroid injections, medications, and finger exercises.

If a person suspects they have arthritis in the hands or fingers, they should contact a doctor for a diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of the condition and help with painful symptoms such as swelling and inflammation.

Read the article in Spanish.