Osteoarthritis afflicts most people over the age of 50 in some form, and can be crippling as it progresses. It’s a statistic I know well, but I certainly didn’t expect to be diagnosed with this common condition in my mid-20s. It turns out, over all the different types of arthritis, about two-thirds of all arthritis sufferers are under 65. So much for an “old person’s disease.”
How did I get osteoarthritis at 25?
Basically, osteoarthritis is the result of cumulative wear and tear on your joints over time. This means that there’s a higher chance of it as you get older, but younger people can get it too if they’re rough enough on their body. I was raised in the country and spent childhood days caring for animals, gardening, fixing fences, building forts in my haphazard finger-smashing way, and playing rough sports. In addition, a large portion of my schooling through 7th grade was done in sign language.
The internet showed up when I was a preteen, so I spent high school figuring out how to use it to make money. By the time I graduated, I was making a pretty decent living doing writing and transcription. I knew the risks of repetitive injury in this line of work, and even considered learning the Dvorak keyboard and switching to voice recognition software to cut back on my typing – but never quite got around to it. The subtle early symptoms of osteoarthritis started showing after only a year of 12-hour days spent typing. It took five years for the pain to finally get my attention.
What are the symptoms of hand arthritis?
Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands can be almost imperceptible at first. My hands used to have dulled sensation when I woke up in the mornings – not completely numb, but like they were halfway there – and I couldn’t grip anything for a little while. Over time, that progressed to complete numbness first thing in the morning with noticeable swelling in the fingers. By the time that had progressed to numbness and swelling followed by aching, tenderness and stiffness in the hand’s joints every morning, it finally sank in that this was a problem.
Common symptoms in hand arthritis include a dull, aching pain in the joints. Your hands might show more prominent joints, especially on the middle joint of each finger. Morning stiffness and pains are often the worst because of the extended period of immobility. If allowed to continue untreated, the osteoarthritis can limit your joint’s range and, eventually, can be crippling.
Which management techniques work for hand arthritis?
Despite my resistance to having my hand pain diagnosed, I was lucky – it’s still considered mild to moderate. While preventative techniques can help at virtually any stage, it’s obviously most effective when there’s relatively little damage already done. Osteoarthritis isn’t curable, but there are things you can do to keep it from getting worse and to limit the pressure on your painful joints.
At this relatively mild stage, I didn’t need prescription drugs for arthritis pain. My doctor suggested using over-the-counter pain relievers such as Ibuprofen if it gets bad, but most of the time it’s not needed. What is needed is an attentive approach to joint health.
My hands had to have less work to do – I finally made the switch to voice recognition software to reduce the strain and impact of constant typing. While I’m still slow with a Dvorak keyboard (which can be done on any computer as long as the QWERTY-printed keys don’t get you confused), it has helped ease the strain in both wrists and fingers from a day’s work. Once mastered, Dvorak can be much faster and easier to use than a QWERTY.
Exercise is all-important, especially in all forms of osteoarthritis. While some types of yoga may be more about flexibility in other parts of the body, it’s all about strength and stability in the hands and wrists. It helps build up the muscle matrix that supports the numerous joints in the hands, but doesn’t cause bulking or reduced flexibility.
Maintaining the range of damaged joints is the final part of managing osteoarthritis in the hands. For me, this meant taking up beaded micro-macrame – it’s enjoyable and profitable, but also offers a low-impact way to work the entire range of all the joints in your hand. As an added benefit, it can boost coordination in the non-dominant hand, allowing you to use your hands more equally for everyday tasks.
Finally, don’t wait until you’re in pain to learn about joint health. Young people can get arthritis too, and all adults should be aware of how to reduce the risks of arthritis. A healthy weight and a low-impact exercise regimen that includes strength and flexibility can help stave off osteoarthritis.