Joint Pain in Your Fingers - Understanding and Managing the Effects & Causes

Do you lose your grip because of painful and sore finger joints? Or do your fingers get stuck while bent?

Apparently, arthritis doesn’t just affect the knees; it can also affect the fingers, making hand movements and gripping difficult. Other times, it could be due to other factors. Understanding what causes joint pain in fingers sore and painful is primordial in figuring out how to deal with the condition better.

If you’re experiencing joint pain in your fingers, this article will help guide you through how to manage symptoms and offer treatment options.

Causes of Joint Pain in Fingers

Joint pain can manifest beyond the usual joints like knees, hips, and lower back. Sometimes, it can occur with the fingers, too. Finger pain is usually described as a sore, throbbing pain that manifests in any of your fingers and can make gripping and general hand movement painful and difficult.

In most cases, finger pain isn’t serious and will go away alone. It’s usually a result of an accident or injury; however, it can also be an indicator or symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Arthritis-Related Causes

Joint Pain in Fingers

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative and inflammatory condition that wastes away the cartilage of the joints, making mobility both difficult and painful. It’s also considered the most common form of arthritis.

Hand osteoarthritis usually manifests in the following areas:

  • The joints nearest to the fingertips (distal interphalangeal joint)
  • A finger’s middle joint (proximal interphalangeal joint)
  • The thumb basal joint (carpometacarpal joint)

According to one study, about 21% of the US population suffers from hand osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, breaking down the cartilage pain and inflammation in the joints. 

Like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis also occurs in the fingers and wrist. It causes the following symptoms:

  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers
  • Swelling and inflammation of the tendons
  • A change in the shape of the fingers, usually starting to look sausage-shaped 
  • A soft lump over the back of the hand
  • A clicking sound when moving the fingers
  • The fingers get stuck when bending 
  • Overall inability to bend fingers

Of the estimated 17.6 million of the global population affected by rheumatoid arthritis, more than 50% of them tend to suffer from hand and wrist rheumatoid arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is linked with psoriasis, a chronic skin and nail disease. The condition is somewhat similar to rheumatoid arthritis in symptoms but tends to affect only fewer joints. It occurs among people who already have had psoriasis for some time.

Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include:

  • Stiff and swollen finger and toe joints
  • Back and shoulder pain
  • Enthesitis (Inflammation of the entheses, sites where tendon and ligament are attached to the bone)
  • Nail pitting and separation.
  • Chest and rib pains
  • Occasional fatigue

Studies show that psoriatic arthritis has an incidence of approximately 6 per 100,000 in the general population and is found in about 20% of psoriasis patients.

Injury-Related Causes

Injuries like cuts, bruises, fractures, and muscle and tissue damage contribute to the incidence of finger joint pain.

Sprains and fractures

A fractured or sprained finger results in the soft tissues, like the ligaments, in the finger being torn. Sprains are usually the result of a sports-related injury or fall, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness in varying levels, while fractures occur when one or more of the finger bones break due to trauma.

Sprains aren’t serious injuries that require immediate medical attention and can usually be treated at home. Finger fractures, on the other hand, can lead to serious problems and long-term consequences like an increased risk of arthritis.

Repetitive strain injuries

Repetitive strain injuries are the damage inflicted on the muscles, tendons, or nerves caused by repetitive motions and constant use of the shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands. In the hands, the fingers and thumbs are particularly afflicted.

Athletes and people with physically demanding jobs are often prone to repetitive strain injuries. When left untreated, it could lead to other conditions like tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and stenosing tenosynovitis, the latter being a sensation of locking when bending the digits.

Finger related joint pain

Other Medical Conditions

Gout

gout in the hand

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by an excess of uric acid in the body, forming crystals around the joints, causing pain and swelling. Gout can affect any joint in the body, especially in the hands and fingers.

Gout flares are characterized by swollen, red, warm, and stiff joints, often manifesting at night and with varying intensities. These flares can be triggered by consuming certain foods and beverages, certain medications, physical trauma, or certain illnesses.

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes organ and tissue damage. Among lupus symptoms, the fingers and toes are also affected, becoming increasingly sensitive, causing pain, numbness, and tingling sensations in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress. 

Lupus affects 1.5 million people in the U.S., with 95% of lupus patients suffering from joint problems.

Raynaud's phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon is a disorder that causes decreased blood flow to parts of the body, often the fingers, which results in symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, and the discoloration of fingertips or toes becoming red, white, blue, or purple.

Raynaud’s often occurs as a result of autoimmune or connective tissue diseases like lupus, although it can also occur on its own. Studies showed that 3 to 5 percent of adults worldwide suffer from Raynaud’s.  Females are also more prone to the condition than males.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Diagnostic Approaches

Physical Examinations

A healthcare provider will examine your finger for swelling and tenderness and test your finger mobility by straightening and bending the affected fingers to see how well they move.

Some of the most common tests healthcare professionals use to diagnose joint pain in fingers include:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRIs
  • Ultrasounds
  • Joint aspiration

Blood tests like the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (anti-CCP) test check for anti-CCP antibodies, which appear in cases with rheumatoid arthritis. Other blood tests can check for anemia, kidney and liver function, and infection markers.

Treatment Options

Medical Treatments

Pain relievers (NSAIDs, steroids)

Studies show that taking NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors, and analgesics helps improve pain and physical function in osteoarthritis. One study showed NSAIDs like diclofenac provided moderate and meaningful pain relief and function in patients suffering from short-term hand, hip, or knee osteoarthritis.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are medications made for rheumatoid arthritis patients. The mechanism of action of DMARDs includes the inhibition of the immune responses of monocytes, T and B lymphocytes, and cytokines, as well as the latter’s production.

Commonly used DMARDs include the following:

  • Adalimumab
  • Azathioprine
  • Baricitinib
  • Cyclosporine
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Infliximab
  • Leflunomide
  • Methotrexate
  • Sulfasalazine

Researchers Reem H. Mohammed and Beenish S. Bhutta single out methotrexate over other conventional and biologic DMARDs for its potent activity.

Biologic agents

Biologics are a subset of DMARDs. These potent drugs decrease inflammatory conditions that affect the joints and organs. Its mechanism of action involves targeting different parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation and inhibit proteins and cells.

Examples of biologics include:

  • Anakinra
  • Antibodies
  • Certolizumab
  • Etanercept
  • Proteins
  • Secukinumab
  • Ustekinumab

DMARDs like adalimumab, infliximab, and ustekinumab are also considered biologic agents.

Physical Therapy and Lifestyle Changes

Preventing finger joint pain is difficult, especially if you’re a physically active person or if you work with your hands a lot. However, making some lifestyle changes can delay or mitigate the effects of inflammation on the finger joints.

Doing exercises for finger flexibility and strength

Orthopedic physical therapist Theresa Marko says that doing hand exercises helps one regain joint flexibility and a better range of motion in their fingers. Studies showed that those who did hand exercises regained better grip and more flexibility in their fingers, almost twice the improvement in hand function over those who didn’t do hand exercises.

Wearing finger splints

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) promotes the use of finger splints as a way to help correct, support, and protect fingers afflicted by arthritis, sprains, fractures, and other injuries. 

There are two main types of splints: boutonniere splints and swan neck splints. Boutonniere splints can help straighten a finger joint that’s unable to bend, while swan neck ones can prevent the joints from moving beyond the neutral position.

A healthy diet and nutrition

Consuming foods with excess fats, sugars, grains, and other carbohydrates can directly trigger pro-inflammatory substances and increase the risk of the body lapsing into an inflammatory state, affecting the joints all over the body. 

Eating a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like Omega-3-rich oily fish like salmon or sardines, legumes, nuts, dairy, garlic, and dark leafy greens helps fight off infection and inflammation in the joints and reduces the overall risk of arthritis.

Get enough rest

Letting your hands rest after intense work or activities prevents tension and stress from building up on the finger joints. You can also rest your hands in certain intervals if your work involves a lot of hand work.

Quit smoking & alcohol binging

Smoking and alcohol cause inflammatory markers and oxidative stress, which can result in joint pain. If you’re already affected by arthritis, it would be better to gradually cut both habits to improve overall joint health.

Alternative Therapies

The RICE Method

The RICE method is a self-care technique that helps reduce joint pain, swelling, and tension. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation and is often applied as an immediate treatment for musculoskeletal injuries.

For sore and swollen joints, it can be done like this:

  • Rest - Drop any intense physical activity since they can trigger joint pain flare-ups.
  • Ice - Apply an ice pack on the afflicted joint(s) multiple times daily for up to 20 minutes. 
  • Compression - Wrap the affected joint part firmly with a bandage or compression sleeve to expedite healing time and reduce swelling and tension.
  • Elevation - Elevate the affected body part above the level of your heart to decrease swelling and joint pain.

If the finger joint pain persists or worsens after the RICE method, seek immediate medical care.

Acupuncture

Experts find acupuncture a beneficial procedure to curb inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, often serving as a complementary post-treatment therapy for joint pain. However, research is still lacking on the extent of its effects on hand arthritis.

Herbal supplements

Supplementation with natural substances such as glucosamine and chondroitin helps provide effective relief against joint pain symptoms and restore mobility. Ingredients rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties like turmeric, boswellia, bioperine, and fish oil are known to reverse the inflammatory effects that plague the joints. 

Physio Flex Pro is one supplement with a wide array of select joint-beneficial ingredients that work synergistically to relieve joint inflammation, facilitate cartilage repair, and promote better joint flexibility.

FAQs for Finger-Related Joint Pain

1. What lifestyle changes can help manage finger joint pain?

Things like eating healthier, doing physical exercise, quitting smoking, cutting on alcohol, and getting enough rest in between activities can make a difference in reducing the risk of finger joint pain.

2. How does diet affect joint pain in fingers?

Eating certain foods, such as those rich in sugars, fats, and grains, and drinking alcoholic beverages can trigger inflammatory substances, cause inflammation in the body, and result in the joints becoming afflicted.

3. Are there any specific exercises to reduce finger joint pain?

Physical therapists employ certain finger/hand exercises to help restore movement and flexibility to the affected joints. Exercises like the knuckle bend, fist stretch, and finger walk are commonly prescribed hand workouts for hand and wrist arthritis.

4. When should I seek medical attention for finger joint pain?

If the pain continues to persist for 24 to 48 hours, even after immediate care methods like the RICE method, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider to get more standard treatment options and a proper diagnosis.

5. How can I differentiate between arthritis and other causes of joint pain in fingers?

Osteoarthritis, the more common form of arthritis, involves the mechanical degradation of the cartilage due to wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints. These two conditions have varying symptoms

6. What are the latest treatments for rheumatoid arthritis affecting fingers?

As of date, there is still no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, the use of biologics or DMARDs like methotrexate, adalimumab, etanercept, and infliximab has been gaining traction and is becoming a more recommended treatment option with promising results.

7. Can joint pain in fingers be a sign of a more serious condition?

If the finger joint pain becomes recurring or more severe, this could indicate a more serious injury or underlying conditions like gout or lupus

8. What are the common side effects of medications for finger joint pain?

NSAIDs, analgesics, and dietary supplements are generally safe, but they are known to occasionally cause certain problems like gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting in certain individuals.

9. How effective are natural remedies in treating finger joint pain?

Alternative treatment methods like the RICE method can help relieve pain flare-ups. Consuming raw garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon and drinking herbal tea can also help with managing arthritic symptoms.

Conclusion

Having joint pain in the hands can be a limiting and exhausting experience, especially if you work a lot with your hands or are physically active. While there is still no known cure, physical therapy and lifestyle habits like eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient rest can go a long way in preventing its onset and mitigating its symptoms.

If you feel consistent joint pain in your fingers, consult with your doctor to diagnose the problem early on and receive proper medical treatments.

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