Arthritis is a broad definition given to conditions that cause inflammation in and around the joints. There are many different types of arthritis; the main two are described below.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease which affects the whole body. The membranes surrounding joints and tendons become inflamed, leading to irritation and damage of the joint surface and nearby soft tissues.

Rheumatoid arthritis is usually diagnosed by a combination of clinical history and presentation, blood tests and x-rays. Early diagnosis is vital to ensure treatment can start as soon as possible.

Symptoms can include:

  • Hot, swollen, painful, stiff joints
  • Joint and muscle stiffness in the morning
  • Reduced grip strength and function
  • Joint deformities
  • Reduced sensation related to nerve compression


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease where the articular (joint) surfaces become damaged over time. The normal joint cartilage becomes worn, narrowing the space between the two bones and causing pain as the joint moves. Small cysts and osteophytes (extra spurs of bone) may form on the joint surfaces, which also limits normal joint movement.

Osteoarthritis may be linked to a previous injury, including fractures through the joint or damage to the surrounding ligaments. It is also thought to have a hereditary component.

Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Localised swelling
  • Joint deformity (normally seen in later stages)

For more information about arthritis from the British and American Societies for Surgery of the Hand, please follow the links below:

How can a Hand Therapist or Hand Surgeon help with arthritis affecting the hand and hand function?

Hand therapists are able to advise patients on how to look after their joints, with the aims of promoting function and preventing deformity. Therapists can also provide advice about managing pain and the use of energy conservation techniques. If necessary, your hand therapist will also fabricate custom-made splints for rest and pain relief or to provide functional support.

Hand surgeons may be consulted regarding specific joint or soft tissue damage that may be helped with surgery or injection therapy, for example: inflamed joints, tendons that have ruptured or damaged joints that require replacement with a prosthetic joint.