If you think about everything you use your fingers for, it should give you an indication of just how much pain and stiffness in the knuckle joints can affect your ability to go about day-to-day activities. If you have not sustained an injury to this area and are experiencing pain and stiffness, more than one condition could be the reason. See your doctor for a definitive diagnosis.
One of the more obvious potential causes of painful knuckle symptoms is osteoarthritis, which affects about one out of five people in the United States, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This form of arthritis occurs when cartilage surrounding the joints breaks down, causing swelling, pain and limited movement of the affected area. Heavy use of your fingers for gripping can induce pain that occurs up to a day later than the activity. Stiffness typically occurs in the morning. You may also experience warmth and, in some cases, your knuckles may appear abnormally large.
Rheumatoid arthritis, which also affects the joints, is an autoimmune disease that can cause symptoms throughout the body. The cause of this disease is unclear, but genetics may play a role. The immune system attacks healthy tissues, leading to inflammation of the joints as well as other symptoms including fatigue, weakness and swollen glands. The finger and toe knuckles can be affected. Pain, stiffness and tingling sensations may occur in the hands and feet. Swelling of hands may also be a possibility, according to rheumatologist Dr. Johnny Su of the Cleveland Clinic.
You may be surprised to learn that a thyroid disease could affect your knuckles, but it can. This disease occurs when your levels of thyroid hormone are too low. In addition to fatigue, dry skin and coldness, hypothyroidism can cause joint pain and stiffness. Swelling can also occur in the small joints of the hands and feet, such as the knuckles, according to Dr. Todd B. Nippoldt, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. Cognitive difficulties and constipation are additional possible symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory drugs are used in the treatment of both forms of arthritis. Steroid injections may also be used. When arthritis affects the hands, using a splint to stabilize the affected joints is also a possibility. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may prescribe immune-depressing medications to help manage the disease. Physical therapy is used to maintain joint function. Surgery to repair a severely affected joint may be necessary in some cases. If your knuckle pain is the result of hypothyroidism, medications that regulate your hormone levels will be the primary treatment.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Arthritis of the Hand
- National Institutes of Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Net Wellness; What Could Cause Pain and Soreness in Hands?; Johnny Su, M.D.; January 2008
- Mayo Clinic; Hypothyroidism: Does It Cause Joint Pain?; Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D.; August 2010
- American Thyroid Association; Hypothyroidism; 2005