Are You Experiencing
Finger Joint Pain?

Our hands are vitally important to the activities we do every day. Finger joint pain can mean limited ability to do simple things like open a jar, write a letter, or use a fork and knife can be limited and painful. What are the potential causes of finger pain? Could you have finger arthritis? What can you do to minimize pain and improve everyday function?

Finger Anatomy

The fingers are comprised of series of bones, tendons, and legaments all working together to create functioning joints. The fingers are referred to as phalanges with the joints named according to their position: distal interphalangeal joint (DIP), proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP), and metacarpo-phalangeal joint (MCP).

Ligaments connect one bone to the other, helping to form the joints of the hand. Flexor tendons on the palm side of the hand work during gripping activities and extensor tendons straighten the fingers. The inter workings of the bones, ligaments, and tendons make the hand one of the most complex regions of the body.

Causes of Finger Joint Pain

Unfortunately there are a variety of sources for finger joint pain. Causes of finger pain can include joint conditions, overuse, and trauma.

The most common conditions or diseases associated with finger pain are as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis arthritis. Both are autoimmune diseases. Although these conditions affect multiple joints in the body, they frequently involve the joints of the hand and create finger arthritis symptoms. In severe cases, deformities of the hand can make everyday function quite difficult and painful.

In severe RA of the hands, a deformity termed ulnar drift can occur in which the fingers begin to all deviate toward the pinky side of the hand.

finger arthritis

The most common source of pain from hand and finger overuse is osteoarthritis. Like other joints in the body, the joints of the hand and fingers are lined with a thin cartilage called articular cartilage. Excessive use of the hands can cause a thinning of this cartilage and lead to inflammation of the joints. This inflammation leads to joint stiffness, swelling, redness, and pain. Finger arthritis can occur in multiple finger joints or just one. The most common joint to undergo arthritic changes is the basal or CMC joint of the thumb leading to significant thumb joint pain.

Another common cause of finger pain is carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is neurological in nature and is caused by the pinching of the median nerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel. Although activities can aggravate the condition it is often associated with an anatomically narrow carpal tunnel. Pain, numbness, and weakness in the thumb and first two fingers are the most common symptoms with this condition.

A less common overuse injury of the fingers is called trigger finger. This condition is a type of tendonitis. Fingers flex via tendons, located on the palm side of the hand, that connect to muscles in the forearm. With repetitive gripping activities the tendons can swell. Because the sheath that surrounds the tendon does not stretch as the tendon swells, the tendon can get stuck, specifically with the finger in a flexed position.

trigger finger

A final cause of finger joint pain is trauma. Numerous types of injuries can create finger pain. Generally the ligaments, tendons, or bones are the injured tissues.

In a jammed finger, the ligaments that support the finger joint become sprained. In significant cases the ligaments can become completely torn resulting in a finger dislocation. In such cases the joint needs to be reset and immobilized to allow healing.

With first time finger dislocations it is not uncommon for a small chunk of bone to be pulled off when the ligament is torn. This is called an avulsion fracture. Of course fractures of the bones of the fingers themselves can become fractured. Most often a fracture of a finger will also result in some ligament or tendon involvement.

Trauma to the tendons can result in limited ability to move the finger and in some cases also result in a deformity. A mallet finger occurs when the connection of the extensor tendon to the distal or last phalange becomes disrupted resulting in the inability to extend the distal finger joint. In mild cases the finger will need to be splinted and in severe cases, surgery is required to reattach the tendon. Other trauma such as lacerations or cuts can disrupt tendons and require surgical repair.

mallet finger

Pain relief for finger joint pain

Treatment for finger joint pain varies based on the specific condition or injury. With both overuse and trauma, the use of ice therapy is an easy means of reducing pain and inflammation. The use of anti-inflammatory medication is also frequently used especially with conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In cases of significant joint inflammation, cortisone injections can be utilized.

With both trauma and deformities from advanced arthritis, the use of splints can be helpful with both healing and improving function. A splint can help position the finger appropriately as a tendon heals. A hand splint can also help to slow the progress of deformities caused by joint degeneration.

Physical therapy can be an effective means of restoring mobility and finger function. Modalities such as ultrasound, fluido therapy, iontophoresis, parafin, and electric stimulation can all be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. Manual soft tissue massage, joint mobilization, and exercises for range of motion and strength are also frequently utilized. Because the hands are important to every day function, and because of the complexity of the hand, seek treatment from a certified hand therapist (CHT).

In some cases, especially when conservative treatment has failed, surgery is an option. For chronic arthritic conditions, finger joint replacement or finger fusion is the surgery of choice. Carpal tunnel surgery is effective for severe carpal tunnel symptoms. If cortisone injections are not effective for the treatment of trigger finger, tendon release is an option. Of course, when trauma such as a tendon rupture or laceration occurs, surgery will be required to reattach the tendon.

Finger pain can be the result of a number of conditions or injuries. Get a thorough evaluation and a clear diagnosis to help you manage your finger joint pain and regain hand function.

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