Osteoarthritis, a condition that causes joints to become painful and stiff, is the most common type of arthritis, affecting around eight million people in the UK. But only a fraction of those, 1.56 million, have sought treatment for osteoarthritis in the hand or wrist.
Grey Giddins, from the British Society of Surgery for the Hand, says the relatively low number of people seeking hand treatment may well be due to a lack of awareness about available options. He says: ‘Despite what many people think, there is a lot that can be done to help people with osteoarthritis in the hand or wrist to enjoy a very good quality of life and manage their symptoms, particularly pain.’
Here, Mr Giddins explains the treatments available and tackles some of the common myths about arthritis.
1. MYTH: Arthritis can’t be treated
- Many people think that arthritis can’t be treated. But there are a range of effective non-operative treatments that can help relieve the symptoms. These include taking anti-inflammatory medication or using a splint to support your thumb or wrist.
- Non-surgical treatments, which should be your first priority, can help stabilise and control symptoms of arthritis over the long term. If these don’t work, there are a range of surgical treatments available, including joint replacement for the wrist, thumb and fingers. This is another option to help relieve pain, increase motion of fingers, and improve hand function.
- If you want to find out more about the treatment options for osteoarthritis, ask your GP to refer you to a hand specialist.
2. MYTH: Only older people get arthritis
- Osteoarthritis can affect people of all ages. While it is true that arthritis does appear more frequently after the age of 45, people can develop osteoarthritis at any age. Common causes include a previous injury or genetics.
3. MYTH: Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis
- There is no conclusive evidence that cracking your knuckles damages your joints and causes arthritis.
- One researcher, Dr Donald Unger, went to significant lengths to show this. He cracked the knuckles of his left hand twice a day for over 50 years whilst never cracking those on his right hand – he never developed arthritis in either hand, and won an award for his efforts in 2009.
4. MYTH: Exercise causes arthritis
- Normal activity and exercise don’t cause osteoarthritis. But very hard, repetitive activity may increase your risk.
- Maintaining supple joints by exercise and perhaps in warm water, is helpful in managing symptoms of arthritis.
5. MYTH: Cold weather causes arthritis
- Although colder weather can cause people to feel that their symptoms are worse, the climate itself is neither the cause, nor the cure of arthritis.
- Some people with osteoarthritis do find that weather changes, particularly the cold, make the pain worse – for example when the pressure falls just before it rains.
6. MYTH: arthritis is a hip and knee problem only
- People think that osteoarthritis only affects the hips and knees but actually the hands are one of the most common sites of arthritis.
For more information about osteoarthritis, visit: www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoarthritis
If you are concerned about your symptoms or want to discuss treatment options, visit your GP.