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When rheumatoid arthritis affects the fingers, they can become swollen and painful, accompanied with a loss of a major part of their mobility and functionality. This is particularly frustrating to the sufferer as the fingers are used for numerous everyday tasks from buttoning garments to locking the house door.
However the following sections examine some of the remedies to combat these deformities, the first section providing an overview of the finger joints normally affected by arthritis.
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Overview of the Finger Joints Affected by Arthritis.
There are three joints in the finger that are affected by arthritis, the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP), metacarpal joint (MCP) and the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP).
The DIP joint is nearer to the tip of the finger, the PIP joint being in between the DIP and the MCP which is the knuckle joint. These joints are shown in the sketches at end of this section.
The most common joint deformations due to arthritis in the fingers are;
- Swan neck – deformity of MCP, PIP and DIP joints.
- Mallet finger – deformity of the DIP joint.
- Boutonniere deformity – deformity of the PIP joint.
Sketches of these deformities are shown below with the responsible joints highlighted.
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List of the Best Treatments for Arthritic Fingers
1. Finger Splints.
- Finger splints are used to correct the joint deformity.
2. Hand Splints.
- These are used to rest hands and fingers.
3. Hot Treatment
- This can be carried out using mitts that are warmed in the microwave, or by using hot wax hand bath. Hand exercises are then carried out.
4. Cold Treatment
- This is carried out using ice packs either covering all the fingers, or small packs placed on individual fingers. Hand exercises are then carried out.
- Tight-fitting compression gloves are used to correct and delay further deformity of the joints.
- Ultrasound (UT)-used on individual finger joints to reduce inflammation, promote blood flow and repair soft tissue. Hand exercises are then carried out.
- Analgesics – painkilling drugs such as paracetamol.
- Anti inflammatory drugs such as NSADS.
- Disease modification drugs.
- Cortisone injections into inflamed joints.
Surgery is only carried out when all of the aforementioned treatment has proved unsuccessful.
- MCP Joints – complete replacement of joints.
- DIP and PIP Joints – Arthrodesis (fixing/fusion the joint to relieve pain) or arthroplasty - the complete replacement of affected finger joints.
9. Monitoring Treatment Effect
- X-ray monitoring using radiology.
- Measuring joint size and finger angles using medical calipers and protractors.
- Grip strength using grip indicator.
The photographs are from the author's own collection taken recently whilst an inpatient at the Highland Rheumatology Unit Scotland UK