Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints, including those in the hands and fingers. Symptoms of arthritis in the hands and fingers include pain and stiffness.

This article will examine the symptoms of arthritis in the fingers. It will also provide information on exercises and treatments that can offer symptom relief.

The sections below will describe 12 symptoms that someone with arthritis in the fingers may experience:

Pain

Pain is a common early symptom of arthritis in the hands and fingers. 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 may exacerbate it.

Swelling

Joints may swell with overuse. Sometimes, the swelling can get so bad that it limits a person’s use of their hand and fingers.

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

Warm to the touch

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

Stiffness

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

This can be particularly debilitating, as the stiffness may reduce the person’s range of motion in the fingers. This may cause them to find it difficult to grasp objects.

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 irregularity will bend at the middle joint.

Numbness and tingling

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

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops due to a pinched nerve in the wrist. It can happen as a result of arthritis, injury, or fluid buildup due to pregnancy.

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.

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 struggle to turn on faucets and turn a key in a door.

Rash

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

This rash will be flaky and scale-like and may present alongside swelling.

Nail changes

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

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

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.

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.

Learn more about joint sounds and what they mean here.

Hand and finger exercises may provide relief from pain and stiffness, and they may also improve hand movement. However, one 2017 study suggests that people should continuously practice the exercises, as the beneficial effects can wear off with time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend avoiding activities that put strain on the joints. Low impact exercises are 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.

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 with 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 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.

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.

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 infections may cause joint damage and lead to arthritis.
  • Age: Older adults are at higher risk of developing arthritis.
  • Sex: Several types of arthritis are more common in females than in males.

The CDC suggest that people talk to their doctor if they experience any symptoms of arthritis.

Getting a diagnosis as early as possible can help the doctor put together a treatment plan before the symptoms get worse. Without treatment, arthritis can cause lasting joint damage.

A person should see their doctor if joint pain and swelling do not go away and 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.

There is currently no cure for arthritis. It is a chronic condition, which means that it requires long-term management.

That said, there are plenty of treatment options that 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
  • stopping smoking

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

If a person suspects that they have arthritis in the hands or fingers, they should see a doctor for diagnosis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can slow disease progression and help with painful symptoms such as swelling and inflammation.