Why are my finger joints swollen and painful?

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What causes finger joint swelling and pain?

Finger joint swelling can be due to traumatic (injury) or atraumatic (not from injury) causes.

Traumatic

A. Finger strains/ sprains

Finger strains or sprains can lead to finger joint pain and swelling.

  • A sprain occurs when a ligament in your finger becomes stretched or torn
  • A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon in your finger becomes stretched

B. Dislocated finger joint

This occurs when the bones in your affected finger are no longer in the correct position/ out of alignment with each other.

C. Finger fractures/ breaks

If your finger bone is fractured or broken, finger joint pain and swelling may occur, especially if the fracture or break is located near the finger joint.

Atraumatic

The most common cause of atraumatic finger swelling is some form of finger joint arthritis. Arthritis refers to inflammation/disorders of the joint. Osteoarthritis refers to the loss of joint cartilage and is a degenerative process (wear and tear). Other forms of arthritis include rheumatoid and gout. The rest of the article will focus on arthritis affecting the finger joints.

A. Osteoarthritis (OA)

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that involves the wearing down of your cartilage (a connective tissue that eases friction between your joints), causing your bones to rub against each other without a cushion. Repeated rubbing in the affected finger joint can lead to pain and swelling of the finger joint.

B. Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own healthy tissues. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints – in this case, the lining of your finger joint, known as the synovial membrane. As a result, inflammation of the synovial membrane occurs, causing painful swelling in your affected finger joint. Eventually, bone erosion and joint deformity may result.

What are the symptoms of finger joint arthritis?

The symptoms of finger joint swelling and pain include:

  • Painful joints (described to be deep and aching)
    • Especially after being inactive/ applying light pressure
  • Joint may feel warm when touched
  • Stiffness
    • Difficulty or inability to move your fingers normally
    • Loss of flexibility of joint
  • Swelling of finger joint

How can finger joint arthritis affect my daily life?

For some people, your finger joint pain/ swelling may worsen when you move your finger, rendering you unable to effectively perform daily activities that require the use of your fingers, such as:

  • Writing
  • Gripping
  • Typing

This may eventually affect the quality of your life.

How is finger joint arthritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a medical interview and perform a clinical examination of the finger joints. Other joints in the body may also be affected by the same processes that cause finger arthritis. The examination may also include these joints.

Based on the findings, he/she may recommend lab tests and radiographical examinations for the joints involved. Test such as inflammatory markers, autoimmune markers, and which cell count may be useful to differentiate the type of finger joint arthritis that you might be suffering from.

Plain radiographs (X-rays) are typically ordered as part of the diagnostic process as well. Occasionally, MRI scans may also be indicated for finger joint arthritis.

What are the treatment options for finger arthritis?

Non-surgical

Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and painkillers can help to relieve pain and swelling. For patients who suffer from autoimmune arthritis, special drugs such as steroids and disease-modifying agents (DMARDs) may also be prescribed as part of your treatment.

Injections

Corticosteroid, which is an anti-inflammatory agent, may be injected into your affected finger joint to help target joint inflammation and reduce finger joint pain.

Physical therapy

For people with arthritis, joint stiffness and pain can worsen when these joints are not frequently active. Receiving physical therapy can help you to reduce joint stiffness and pain, and relieve stress on your affected finger joint.

Orthotics

A splint immobilizes your injured finger, giving it time to rest and recover.

Surgical

Surgical treatment for finger joint arthritis varies according to the condition that you are suffering from, the severity of the disease, and your occupational and social requirements. Treatments can range from finger joint debridement (cleaning up inflamed tissues), contracture releases, and joint fusions, to finger joint replacements if appropriate.

For an assessment of your condition, please book an appointment with Dr. Yong Ren.

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Sarah Taylor

Obstetrics & Gynaecology