Arthritis is a condition that is commonly associated with age. It’s true that age can increase the likelihood of developing certain types of arthritis. But it’s also true that one in every four adults in the U.S. have arthritis. More than half are between the ages of 18 and 64.

One possible reason why arthritis is more commonly associated with seniors may be the amount of time that it takes for individuals to seek treatment. Because arthritis pain can vary in severity, it can go undiagnosed for years as an individual ignores their pain and discomfort. 

But early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce pain, increase mobility, and help to keep arthritis from becoming worse later on. The best way to increase early diagnosis is to make sure that you understand the early signs of this condition.

Whether you’ve already made an appointment to see the experts at Intermountain Orthopaedics or not, keep reading as we explore the first symptoms of arthritis in hands and what you need to know about early treatment options.

Correcting Common Misconceptions About Arthritis

The idea that only the elderly develop arthritis isn’t the only common misconception about this condition. Before we explore the first signs of arthritis in hands, it’s important to dispel another misunderstanding that may be preventing early diagnosis.

That misconception is that arthritis is a single diagnosis.

The term “arthritis” is often used as a blanket word to describe joint pain or joint disease. But there are actually more than 100 different types of arthritis and similar conditions. These can impact people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. 

While they might share a similar complaint of joint pain, they can have very different symptoms, progress on different timelines, and vary greatly in severity. This also means that the first symptoms of arthritis in hands can vary depending on the type of arthritis that is developing.

First Symptoms of Arthritis in Hands

While there are many different types of arthritis, many of the first symptoms of arthritis in hands are similar. The most common first signs of arthritis in hands are pain and swelling at the joints, stiffness in the fingers and other joints, and a weakening grip.

Pain is often one of the first symptoms of arthritis in hands. It may be minor at first, and continue to be minor for months or even years before it worsens. Stiffness in your joints and weakness in your hands and wrists may also be minor at first, and worsen over time. Because pain can be blamed on a variety of injuries and conditions, this is the most common early sign to be overlooked. However, once stiffness and weakness begin, it becomes more clear that arthritis may be to blame.

Certain types of arthritis may cause other early signs and symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at some of the first signs of arthritis in hands and wrists for different types of arthritis.


The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis contributes to the idea that this condition more commonly impacts the elderly because wear and tear on your joints from overuse over time can lead to osteoarthritis. However, certain joint injuries and other conditions, such as obesity, can also cause the development of osteoarthritis. 

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that covers the end of the bones in your joints breaks down. This can cause every movement to become deeply painful. Pain is one of the first symptoms of arthritis in hands. But along with that pain, osteoarthritis can also cause a grating sound when you move your fingers. Another early sign is painful bumps or spurs that occur on the ends of your bones, particularly in your fingers. 

Along with the physical signs and pain, individuals may notice that everyday tasks like brushing their hair or buttoning their shirt are suddenly difficult.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage. But this next type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease. Instead of being caused by wear and tear, RA develops when the immune system attacks a part of the body, typically the joints. This attack leads to inflammation. Over time, that swelling can cause severe joint damage.

Alongside pain, one common early symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is lumps beneath the skin, often called rheumatoid nodules. In the hands, these are common on the knuckles.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Another common type of arthritis is psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis carries some similar first symptoms of arthritis in hands, like pain and swelling. But another common early sign is red, raised, patchy areas of inflamed skin. The affected skin may also become increasingly dry and scaly. 

Psoriatic arthritis is most common around the elbows, knees, scalp, and navel, but can occur elsewhere on the body, such as the fingers or wrist. One lesser known sign of psoriatic arthritis is fingernails that are discolored or pitted.

Spotting the First Signs of Arthritis in Hands

Like most conditions and injuries, early treatment of arthritis can help improve your long-term quality of life. The hand and wrist experts at Intermountain Orthopaedics may treat your arthritis with splinting, injections, and other non-surgical treatments, especially if the condition is caught in the early stages. But as arthritis progresses, pain and deterioration may progress, and other treatment options, including surgery, may be necessary.

Learning the first symptoms of arthritis in hands and wrists is the best way to get early treatment for your pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints. If you’re suffering from pain in your hands or wrists, our hand surgery experts can help. Schedule an appointment today to get to the root of your pain and find the right treatment option for you.