Many forms of arthritis and related conditions that affect the joints, muscles and/or bones can cause problems like pain, stiffness and swelling in the wrist and fingers. Other conditions can cause additional problems, such as numbness and tingling, pitted nails, painful ulcers or thickened skin that makes bending the fingers difficult. Here are some possible disease-related problems that affect the hands and wrists.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA). The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. This breakdown causes the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint. In the hand, the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the wrist, the joint at the base of the thumb (the basal joint), the joint in the middle of the finger (proximal interphalangeal joint or PIP) and the joint closest to the nail (distal interphalangeal joint or DIP). In the finger joints, OA can lead to the formation of bony knots. In the PIP joint these are call Bouchard's nodes. In the DIP joint they are called Heberden's nodes.

Learn more about osteoarthritis.

Experts answer your questions about osteoarthritis.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when the body’s immune system – which normally protects us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. The result can be joint damage, pain, swelling, inflammation, loss of function and disability. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the wrist and finger joints and can cause deformities that make it difficult to use the hands.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Juvenile arthritis (JA). Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis when it begins before age 16. There are several different types of juvenile arthritis that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and joints of the hands.

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  • Gout. Gout is a form of  arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid, a bodily waste product circulating in the bloodstream, is deposited as needle-shaped monosodium urate crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe – often following a trauma, such as an illness or injury. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, including the wrist and joints of the fingers. After years with the disease, lumps of uric acid, called tophi, may form beneath the skin of the hands.

Learn more about gout.

  • Reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis that often occurs following an infection of the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal system. Features of reactive arthritis include inflammation and swelling of the joints, eyes and structures within the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tracts, such as intestines, kidneys or bladder. A small percentage of people with the disease develop a rash or hard nodules on the soles of their feet or palms of their hands.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases answers your questions about reactive arthritis.

  • Lupus. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, meaning the body's immune system creates antibodies that attack healthy tissues, including the joints. The wrist and small joints of the hands are among those most commonly affected by lupus. Lupus can also cause inflammation in many organs, including the skin, heart, lungs and kidneys.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. The skin disease often precedes the arthritis; in a small percentage the joint disease develops before the skin disease. The joint involvement of psoriatic arthritis often causes inflammation of the entire finger, giving it a sausage-like appearance. Approximately 80 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis experience changes to the nails including pitting, thickening and/or separation from the nail bed. The skin rash of psoriatic arthritis can also affect the hands.

Learn more about psoriatic arthritis.