Polyarthritis of the Fingers / Thumb arthritis

My fingers are stiff, painful and deformed

If you have noticed that your finger joints have increased in size, feel stiff and ache, you might suffer from polyarthritis.

What is polyarthritis?

Polyarthritis is the term for arthritis of the finger joints. Every finger has three segments (phalanxes) and two joints (proximal & distal interphalangeal joints). The thumb has two phalanxes and one inter-phalangeal joint (IPJ). The terminal row of inter-phalangeal joints or ‘distal interphalangeal joints’ (DIPJ) can be affected which is called ‘Heberden Arthritis’. In contrary the middle row of joints or ‘proximal interphalangeal joints’ (PIPJ) is called ‘Bouchard Arthritis’. Not always are all of these joints involved and mixed pictures are common.

What are the symptoms of finger polyarthritis and thumb arthritis?

Arthritis in general causes stiffness and pain. In the fingers swelling of the joints is common and often visible as there is only little soft tissue between skin and joint. These swellings are also called ‘Bouchard nodes’ and ‘Heberden nodes’ respectively. Because of arthritis being a progressive, destructive process to cartilage and underlying bone layer, deviations of joints can occur in advanced stages (crooked fingers). Often the basal joint of the thumb is affected as well. This is called ‘first carpometacarpal joint (1st CMCJ) and this can lead to pain and reduction of grip span between thumb and index finger.

Who gets finger polyarthritis and thumb arthritis?

Polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb typically appear in middle aged individuals with the female gender being slightly more affected. There seems to be a family disposition in the development of the condition but it is also a part of systemic arthritis forms such as rheumatoid arthritis. Trauma to isolated joints which is not uncommon in ball sport injuries can lead to arthritis later down the track.

How is finger polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb diagnosed?

The clinical picture of swollen, stiff and deviated joints is a typical appearance and X-rays of the hands will show the extend of joint destruction.

Treatment for finger polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb

Despite often bizarre appearances with nodes and deviations of joints, it is not uncommon that pain is not really an issue. However, the deformities can lead to serious compromise of hand function. In theses cases hand therapists can often help with specific splints and braces. Where a joint develops chronic pain or hand function cannot be restored, surgery is an option.

Surgery for polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb

The kind of surgery depends on the individual joint. Fusions, partial and total joint replacements are common treatment modalities and in the thumb basal joint removal of one arthritic carpal bone is a standard procedure (resection arthroplasty and suspensioplasty).

Preparing for surgery for finger polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb

If required we will arrange for a bulk billed pre-admission clinic at the hospital. This is run by a specialist anaesthetist who will gather information and request investigations that are required for safe anaesthesia. Our reception staff will advise of costs, hospital and admission details.

Recovery from surgery for finger polyarthritis and arthritis of the thumb

Depending on the complexity and extend of the procedure these cases can be done as day surgery or overnight stay procedures. Early hand therapy is important for best results and we will arrange this even before your surgery. In most cases it is encouraged to use the hand for light activities of day living straight away. Dressings should be kept dry and clean but wounds heal within ten days after surgery. It can take three to six months until swelling subsides and function is fully restored.