Hand and Wrist Arthritis Can Lead To Permanent Weakness If Not Caught Early 

DAYTON, Ohio (September 14, 2017) – What starts out as a dull, deep aching pain in the hand may eventually lead to a less impressive golf swing or the inability to open a jar lid.

The progressive pain is known as arthritis in the hand and wrist, and if not caught and treated early could mean permanent loss of strength in one of the most important areas of our body, according to Matthew Cavo, MD, a hand surgeon with Hand and Reconstructive Surgeons and Associates. Arthritis in the hand and wrist is similar to arthritis in other areas of the body, such as the knee. It happens when cartilage breaks down on joint surfaces leaving adjacent bones to often rub against one another. Arthritis can occur in any area of the hand, but is most often seen in the base of the thumb and in the wrist, where previous injuries – such as a fractured bone or ligament tear – can make a person more prone to the disease.

Those diagnosed with arthritis in their hand and wrist are first offered conservative treatments including steroid injections or physical therapy. Unfortunately, this type of therapy is not enough for a lot of people suffering from the pain.

“Once cartilage is gone, you can’t regrow it,” said Dr. Cavo, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “Once the bones are rubbing against each other, it really is a pain generator. Some people are able to benefit quite a bit from non-surgical steroid injections or different kinds of treatment like bracing, but for others, those treatments aren’t effective and surgery is the best option.”

Surgery on hand and wrist arthritis is different than that done on other joints in the body. Knee or hip arthritis, for instance, is surgically treated by removing damaged bone and replacing it with plastic or metal. Hand and wrist arthritis is treated by taking out the damaged bone or bone surface and either creating a sling with the person’s own tendons, which then supports the joint, or by using other healthy cartilage surfaces. The body then goes through a natural process of healing around its own tissue.

The benefit to using a person’s own tissue is that they are at a lower risk for infection from foreign materials and don’t have to worry about whether those parts will later loosen and fail. There are different types of surgery for hand and wrist arthritis, and a person’s age, lifestyle and daily activities play a big role in determining which one is best for them.  

“A person who engages in heavy duty labor for their job will need the stability and strength in their wrist, but may not mind losing motion,” Dr. Cavo said. “In that situation, we would probably lean more toward what we call a fusion procedure where we make the bones stable and they actually act as one long bone.”

Another person who doesn’t do much heavy lifting, but whose daily activities require a lot of motion may benefit more from a procedure that removes the arthritic bone without fusing the remaining bones together, he said.

“The benefit of surgery is that it is often a permanent fix,” he said. “The patient no longer has to come in for brace adjustments or steroid injections.”

Surgery helps relieve the pain, but individuals needs to be careful not to put off having their arthritis evaluated and treated. Dr. Cavo urges individuals to keep the following in mind when it comes to hand and wrist arthritis:

Recognize it – Arthritis is often mistaken for an occasional ache or pain and, at times, can be viewed as just a muscle strain. Know the symptoms and if they linger seek help. 

Respect it – Understand that arthritis can happen at any age. It’s not a disease reserved for older adults. You can experience its symptoms as early as 30 years of age.

Get after it – Don’t wait to have your arthritis diagnosed. Surgery can take the pain away, but if done too late won’t be able to help a person regain the strength they lost.

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