Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 30 million adults in the U.S. Occurring most often in the hands, hips, and knees, OA is also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis.
Trauma and overuse can accelerate the process, but age itself is the biggest risk factor.
ORA Orthopedics hand surgeon Dr. Jonathan Winston, MD, says that’s because the cartilage, or cushioning, in our joints can wear thin over time. If it disappears entirely, we can end up with bone-on-bone arthritis.
“If you’ve ever eaten chicken, you may have noticed that the bone has white, shiny tissue at the end,” he says. “That’s cartilage.”
It separates the bones of a joint, allowing for smooth and pain-free movement. When it wears out, the bones – which have many nerve endings on them – begin to rub against each other, and can become very painful.
Osteoarthritis can be more painful in joints that bear weight, but joints that are used extensively in work or sports, or joints that have been damaged by injury may show signs of osteoarthritis.
Thumbs, wrists, elbows and shoulders are among those joints.
“As we get older, parts start wearing out,” Dr. Winston says. “It can become a quality of life issue. If you have debilitating pain, it’s time to see someone.”
Treatments for Fingers, Wrists, Elbows, Shoulders
As a hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder surgeon, Dr. Winston says he tries conservative measures to restore comfort.
“We use splints, anti-inflammatories, exercises. If they don’t work, then we look at injections. Surgical options also exist.”
Those options include joint replacement for fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows and shoulders.
“If someone comes to me with debilitating pain in, say, the base of their thumb and they’ve tried everything except surgery, I feel very confident that surgery can help.”
Learn more about arthritis treatment for the upper extremities at ORA’s Hand and Wrist Center of Excellence.