What is Hand and Wrist Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis literally means “inflamed joint”, and generally refers to any damage to the joints of the body. There are 36 joints in the hand and wrist, and several sites that commonly affected by arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and is a degenerative breakdown of the joints over time. The CMC joint at the base of the thumb is commonly affected. Less common forms of arthritis include damage to the joint due to injuries (post-traumatic arthritis), infection (septic arthritis), and inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid, gout, psoriatic).


The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not known, but there is thought to be a genetic component, and in fact severe hand osteoarthritis seems to run in families. There may also be a component of “wear and tear” with prolonged, repetitive, heavy manual activities.

Signs and symptoms

  • Pain (usually aching in the joints, worse with use)
  • Swelling (of the joints)
  • Stiffness (usually of multiple joints)
  • Deformity (“hard bumps” at the finger joints at the ends of the finger are common)

Is there a test for Osteoarthritis?

Your symptoms and medical history as well as an examination of your hand and wrist can help to diagnose arthritis. Often, X-rays of the hand and wrist will show signs of arthritis including bone spurs and cysts. If inflammatory arthritis or infection is suspected, additional tests may be needed to determine the case of the arthritis.


The most common form is osteoarthritis, and can usually be managed with activity modifications, anti-inflammatory medications, splinting, and steroid injections. Depending on the location of the arthritis, surgical fusion or reconstruction of the joint may significantly improve symptoms in severe or long-standing cases.  

Ready to confirm a diagnosis and fix the problem or just want to learn more?

Our board-certified orthopedic hand and wrist surgeons Eric Angermeier, MD and Kyle Kokko, MD, PhD, are here to help! They can often diagnose the problem in one visit, and get you started with a treatment plan. We offer a wide variety of both nonoperative and operative treatment options.

Call today for a clinic or telehealth appointment! 854-429-4263