Hand Arthritis - Who can help?

March 2021


The hands are a common site for arthritis. When the joints in the hand and wrist become arthritic, it can make our every day activities very difficult.

Luckily, there are treatments available to help. Read on to learn more about the range of health professionals that might form part of your Healthcare Team and help you manage your hand or wrist arthritis. 


Start with your doctor

Speaking with your GP or Rheumatologist about the different medications that can treat the underlying cause of your arthritis is an important starting point. Your doctor can also talk to you about the many health professionals which can help to prevent or treat your hand arthritis. 


Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists (OT's) can show you ways to make activities of daily living (such as cooking and showering) easier and to take pressure off your joints. An OT can: 

  • Analyse your work, household and leisure activities and suggest changes that might help you
  • Suggest ways of using joints without straining them
  • Provide advice on home adaptions and useful aids or equipment which can help to protect or take the pressure of the joints in your hands
  • Suggest exercises to improve hand and wrist movements and grip 
  • Provide advice on wrist and hand splints


Physiotherapists

Physiotherapists can advise you on exercise, posture and ways to relieve pain. They may also use treatments to keep your joints and muscles flexible. A physio can:

  • Work with you to develop a programme of specific exercises 
  • Teach you how to exercise safely for your muscle strength and range of movement, and to prevent further damage to your joints
  • Provide advice on wrist and hand splints
  • May suggest other treatments such as low-level laser therapy - there is some scientific proof that low level laser therapy (by a physiotherapist) can help reduce pain and swelling, particularly in the hands of people with rheumatoid arthritis. 


Hand Therapists

Hand therapists are occupational therapists or physiotherapists who have undertaken further education and assessment to specialise in upper limb conditions and injuries. This includes conditions affecting the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.  A hand therapist can:

  • Assess and treat upper limb conditions including arthritis of the hands, wrist, elbow or shoulder
  • Provide rehabilitation care to optimise the function of upper limb joints affected by arthritis


Orthopedic Surgeons

If you and your doctor think you may require surgery, your doctor will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon.

An orthopaedic surgeon specialises in diagnosis and surgical treatment of bone, muscle and joint disorders. The surgeon will discuss your need for surgery and other management options with you.

Common types of surgery for arthritis of the hands include:

  • Arthrodesis: involves fusing (joining) the two bones forming the joint together. As the fused joint cannot be moved it is no longer painful. This type of surgery is most commonly done on ankles, wrists, fingers or thumbs.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty): involves the removal of damaged surfaces of the joint. These surfaces are then replaced with metal, ceramic or plastic parts. The entire joint can be replaced (total arthroplasty) or just one part of the joint (hemiarthroplasty). Joint replacements can be done on knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, fingers, ankles, toes and even the spine.
  • Synovectomy: is an operation to remove the lining of the joints, the synovium. Removal of the inflamed lining of the joint is usually only carried out in the knee, elbow, wrist or hands.

Download Surgery for Arthritis for information on when to talk to your doctor about surgery and how to get prepared. 


How to find a health professional

Our Find a Specialist page provides links to the websites where you can search for certian health professionals in your local area.

In Queensland, you can access most health professionals publically and privately. Some health professionals may require a referral from your GP, while others can be seen without a GP referral.  

To see an allied health professional (like a physiotherapist or occupational therapist), you can also speak to your GP about organising a GP Management Plan. GP management plans (GPMP) and team care arrangements (TCA) can help people with a chronic health condition to access needed care from a range of allied health professionals.

More information on hand arthritis

Related information and resources on our website


References
Areas of the body (wrists & hands). Arthritis Australia (MyRA) https://myra.org.au/article/your-arthritis-what-ra/areas-body-wrists-hands 
Surgery for arthritis. Arthritis Australia (2018). https://www.arthritis.org.au/how-we-can-help/information-sheets-and-booklets/get-information-sheets/Surgery-for-arthritis.pdf

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