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Arthritis of the Hands
This article will focus on arthritis of the hands and how physiotherapy can help manage this condition. Arthritis is a very common condition which affects people of any age group, even children, but is more commonly seen in older persons. It can affect any joint in the body, such as the hands, knees, feet and others.
While there are various types of arthritis, the two most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by degenerative changes in the cartilage; rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is caused by an autoimmune condition.
Common Symptoms of arthritis in the hands.
The most common symptoms associated with arthritis of the hands include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Pain in the affected joint – mostly with movement but can also occur even at rest.
- Swelling and deformity of the joint.
- Reduced range of motion and strength of the joint.
Risk factors and diagnosis.
Currently there is no consensus on what causes arthritis, however there are a number of known risk factors. Progressing age, trauma, joint infections and overuse are among these. In the case of arthritis of the hand, previous wrist fracture and an office job which results in significant overuse of the hands and fingers would be common risk factors.
So, what can you do if you have been diagnosed with arthritis or suspect that you might have it? If you haven’t had a diagnosis yet, the first step would be to see your doctor to determine whether you actually have arthritis and if you do, which type it is. For instance, you can only be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis based on a blood test for rheumatic factors.
How your physiotherapist can help.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed the next step is to see a physiotherapist who will be able to suggest an appropriate plan for you. While arthritis cannot be cured, having the correct management plan in place will help to control the symptoms and often prevent the progression of arthritis. This plan should be specific to each individual patient as each person’s circumstances are unique.
During the initial session the physiotherapist will gather necessary information regarding your past and present medical history and will perform a thorough musculoskeletal assessment. In the case of arthritis of the hand this assessment would include an analysis of the range of motion and muscle strength of the wrist and fingers as well as other specific tests. The physiotherapist would also discuss with you the nature of your job. Your management plan would consequently be prepared based on this information.
Ensuring a correct ergonomic setup is an essential component of a good treatment plan if your job involves overuse of the hands, as with an office job. One of the best pieces of advice which we can give our patients, is to take regular breaks to give their hands a rest. In one of our previous articles we have also outlined exactly what a good ergonomic setup for an office job involves. Refer to the article entitled Work Related Injuries in the September 2017 issue of the Great Health GuideTM. Following those steps will take a lot of load off the hands and fingers. Wearing a splint, that is a protective brace which looks like a fingerless glove, can also help.
Besides addressing your work station setup, there is a wide range of treatment options which are effective for arthritis management. These include electrotherapy, drug phoresis, SCENAR therapy, balneotherapy or mineral baths and special exercises. This is done in order to abolish, or at least reduce, pain and inflammation. Once this is achieved, however, the focus shifts to an active exercise program. Your physiotherapist will provide you with a specific home exercise program which should be done regularly. This is very important as it will avoid revisiting your physiotherapist too frequently.