A reader recently posed the following question:
Q. I suffer from arthritis in my hands. Do you have any helpful hints to manage the pain?
A. Since I am not familiar with your medical history, and without seeing your hands, it is a little difficult to make recommendations.
There are many different types of arthritis. The most common is osteoarthritis. This is the arthritis that we all seem to acquire as we start aging. It is caused by the wearing out of the cartilage in the joints. This leaves us with less cushion and more discomfort when we use those joints. Osteoarthritis can occur in almost any joint, but the most common ones, as we “mature”, are the hands, knees, hips and lower back.
Although we have made great advances in the treatment of many other kinds of arthritis, the treatment for osteoarthritis, unfortunately, is really only to decrease discomfort when we use those joints.
My first recommendation is to try acetaminophen, since it does have the least likelihood of significant side effects. Ibuprofen or naproxen also could help reduce the pain, but they can be associated with an increased chance of side effects. These include irritation of the stomach and decreasing kidney function.
Some other over-the-counter supplements also have their supporters. They do not seem to work for everybody, but some people feel that supplements containing glucosamine and turmeric have decreased their discomfort.
** Quiz: How much do you know about over-the-counter medicines? **
Some topical ointments that are available over-the-counter have also been helpful in some patients. These include the newer lidocaine creams and capsaicin creams.
Some people may benefit from the use of certain splints. These products support the joints, and I sometimes recommend a thumb spica splint, which is designed specifically to support the base of the thumb, which is a common area of osteoarthritis in the hands.
You might also ask your primary care provider if it would be appropriate for you to visit with an occupational therapist, who focuses on improving the function and decreasing the pain associated with arthritis in your hands.
So, these are some recommendations for people who may have osteoarthritis, but again, without examining your hands, I would not be able to say exactly what kind of arthritis you have. To get a thorough diagnosis, you might need to visit a rheumatologist.