Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis Hands

Medically Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis Hands
Two of the most frequent types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis affects a person in a variety of forms in the bones. It is a joint disease that affects most of the population and can cause inflammation and discomfort, making it difficult to move or remain active. Each type of arthritis has its set of symptoms and may require distinct treatments. 

Though arthritis is mostly associated with the elderly, it can afflict men, women, and children of any age.

Two of the most frequent types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Even though the symptoms of these two forms of arthritis might be extremely similar, it is critical to distinguish them to get the right diagnosis, therapy, and treatment.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease in which the immune system erroneously assaults healthy cells in the body, resulting in inflammation and swelling in the afflicted areas. RA primarily affects the joints, which frequently get damaged. The hands, wrists, and knees are the most frequent joints affected by RA.

The thin lining of the joints in the body affected by RA becomes inflamed, causing joint tissue destruction. Long-term or chronic discomfort, unsteadiness, and deformity can result from this tissue injury.

RA can affect other tissues in the body, including the lungs, heart, and eyes, causing severe complications.

How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the hand?

According to research, 90 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will suffer discomfort, stiffness, or edema in their hand joints, which can make it difficult to do daily tasks. The metacarpophalangeal joints or the knuckles where the fingers and thumb meet the hand and the proximal interphalangeal joint or the middle knuckle are the most prevalent places when RA impacts the hand.

  • The distal interphalangeal joint is the first knuckle at the top of the fingers closest to the fingernails, and it is usually spared in RA.
  • The joint between the two bones of the forearm, the radius, and the ulna, is frequently affected by RA in the wrist.
  • Early in the disease phase, RA usually affects the tiny joints of the hands and feet.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Several joints have a coating called synovium that lubricates the joint and allows it to move more readily. The synovium thickens, gets inflamed, and creates an excess of joint fluid in rheumatoid arthritis.

Synovitis is the medical term for this condition. Swelling, cartilage degeneration, and bone softening occur as a result of the additional fluid and inflammatory chemicals generated by the immune system.

The swelling tissue may sprain the ligaments that surround it, causing deformity and instability. Tendons may be weakened and damaged as a result of the inflammation. Ligaments and tendons are connective structures that link two bones; tendons connect muscle to bone.


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

What is osteoarthritis?

The most prevalent kind of arthritis is osteoarthritis, commonly called degenerative joint disease. As people get older, they are more prone to acquire osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that helps cushion the joints (allowing easy movement) wears down over the long run and the bones begin to rub against each other, causing the symptoms. Changes in osteoarthritis normally take many years to manifest, but there are exceptions. Inflammation and damage to the joint produce bone alterations, tendon and ligament degradation, and cartilage disintegration, resulting in joint discomfort, swelling, and deformity.

How does osteoarthritis affect the hand?

Osteoarthritis strikes the bigger joints first. The index and middle fingers, as well as the thumb, are the most usually affected areas of the hand. Hand osteoarthritis symptoms vary with people and time. Many people discover that their dominant hand is more impacted than their other hand.

The joints closest to the fingernails or those in the center of the fingers may be compromised when the fingers are afflicted. Osteoarthritis at the major knuckle joints, where the fingers meet the hand, is less prevalent.

Osteoarthritis can affect the joint near the base of the thumb. In certain cases, the wrist joint is impacted.

What causes osteoarthritis in the hand?

The exact cause of osteoarthritis in the hands is unknown. It was once believed to happen due to wear and tear on the joints of the hands. It can be inherited, such as nodular osteoarthritis of the hands, or as a secondary condition linked to other hereditary illnesses, such as joint hypermobility.

Due to prolonged inflammation and joint degeneration, inflammatory and infectious arthritis can contribute to the development of secondary osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis can be caused by previous injuries or traumas, such as sports-related or repeated actions.

How are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the hands different?

The most prevalent kind of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), is distinguished by the deterioration of the cartilage that covers the bones in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition in which the body's immune system destroys the joints, starting with the joint lining.

4 symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in the hand

  1. Joint pain: RA commonly starts in the smaller joints. The finger joints are likely to be painful, stiff, and swollen. Significantly bigger joints, such as the knees, shoulders, and ankles, might develop problems as RA advances. The hand and fingers are commonly affected by OA, which is similar to RA. In addition to the knees, OA frequently affects the spine and hips.
  2. Regular pain: Rheumatoid arthritis causes throbbing and excruciating discomfort in the joints. It is usually harsher in the mornings and after a period of inactivity, and it is especially bad while picking up little items.
  3. Stiffness: Rheumatoid arthritis causes stiffness in the joints. One may not be able to fully flex their fingers or make a fist using the affected hand. Morning stiffness due to osteoarthritis usually goes away after 30 minutes of waking up, but morning stiffness due to rheumatoid arthritis might persist much longer.
  4. Redness, swelling, and high temperature: The capillaries of the skin are enlarged by the nearby inflammation, resulting in redness and swelling in the epidermis over an affected joint due to rheumatoid arthritis. During the waking hours, redness, edema, and warmth are more common in OA than in RA.

3 common treatments for both the types of arthritis, rheumatoid, and osteoarthritis

  1. Anti-inflammatory and pain drugs can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Biologics are drugs that target the immune system's inflammatory cascade. Biologics may be recommended by the doctor in case of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
  2. The cortisone injections can help alleviate pain and inflammation in the joints for a short time. A popular medication called viscosupplementation may help with arthritis in some joints, such as the knee. The doctor injects moist lubricant into joints to make them move more smoothly.
  3. Physical therapy can help increase strength, range of motion, and general mobility. Occupational therapists can help one modify their normal tasks to thoroughly alleviate arthritis discomfort.

People with arthritis purely understand how tough and growing unpleasant daily living can be. Many people equate arthritis with growing old, yet it is a disease that affects both children and adults worldwide.

More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from arthritis, with middle-aged and old women accounting for 62 percent of osteoarthritis cases and up to 14 million individuals accounting for rheumatoid arthritis cases.

Medically Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Smith HR. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/331715-overview

Lozada CJ. Osteoarthritis. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/330487-overview