Arthritis is a terrible disease that features not only pain in the joints but also deformity and progressive disability. But there are different types of arthritis and a lot of confusion about what the diagnosis of arthritis means.
For example, patients wonder if they are having a life of disability when septic arthritis can be solved by using the right antibiotics. And they think that only older adults get arthritis. Still, osteoarthritis is one of the most common degenerative diseases in young athletes, especially if they have repeated injuries in the knee.
In the same line of misunderstandings and misconceptions about this disease, most people know that one of the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis is swelling and pain in the finger joints. Thus, having a senior with swollen fingers in the morning is commonly mistaken with arthritis when there are other causes to consider.
In this article, we will give you the tools to make sure it’s not arthritis and mention other common causes of swollen fingers.
Are you sure it’s NOT Arthritis?
Besides swollen fingers, some signs and symptoms give away arthritis as well.
For example, in arthritis, swelling is not only a change of size. It usually includes redness, warmth of the skin, pain, and tenderness. The area that hurts will also look puffy because there’s interstitial fluid in the soft tissues.
Even with all of these signs, it’s not rheumatoid arthritis if you’re not experiencing stiffness of the joints. It is a sensation that the affected articulation is hard to move. Stiffness is more common in the morning after you’re sitting or quiet for a very long time, and sometimes after physical activity.
Other symptoms that give out arthritis include fatigue, fever, and skin rashes. Having two or more symptoms mentioned above should urge you to look for medical attention in order to rule out arthritis.
Other causes of swollen finger joints
After resting assured that you don’t have arthritis, there are other health conditions you should also rule out. The most common are as follows:
- Finger fracture or dislocation: We don’t have to give a detailed explanation about why a finger fracture causes pain, but it may be important to explain why it causes swelling of the articulation. A finger fracture is usually caused by intense trauma capable of breaking the bones or dislodging the articulation. This leads to significant tearing of the tissues, massive destruction of cells, and release of their contents along with inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation ensues, and white blood cells continue the cycle when they gather and find infectious agents. Finger fracture usually has an important history of trauma that will be traceable to the beginning of the symptoms. It is also associated with significant deformity of the articulation.
- Bruise or blunt trauma: Another cause of swelling in the finger joints is having a bruise or suffering blunt trauma in the affected articulation. Even if the underlying tissue and the bone are not affected, blunt trauma causes similar destruction of the cells, as mentioned above. If you have a bruise, it will be an open source of infection that will be detected by the immune system and contribute to releasing inflammatory cytokines. Blunt trauma and bruises do not cause significant signs and symptoms, and they are not meant to last for a very long time.
- Cellulitis: It is an infection of the skin and the underlying tissues. Cellulitis is a complication of superficial infection of the skin, and it can be a cause of hospitalisation in some cases. It causes significant swelling that includes warmth, redness, pain, and an increase in the size of the affected area of the skin, which can be in the fingers or elsewhere. In very severe cases, the articulation can be taken by the infection, and a process of septic arthritis may ensue. Thus, these patients should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.
- Ligament or cartilage injury: Joints have a complex structure of surrounding ligaments, cartilages, and tendons. A sudden movement of the joint can cause a ligament strain or an injury in the tendon or cartilage. It is usually a traumatic injury, but sometimes patients do not remember any significant antecedent because instead of blunt trauma, it is usually triggered by a violent movement, and incorrect gripping of dumbbells, and other causes.
- Stress injury: Repeated use of articulations can have an impact on the bone and other joint structures. This is known as stress injury, and in very severe cases and senior patients, it may even cause microscopic fractures that pile up and cause several small cracks with significant swelling and pain in the articulations. Stress injuries in the hand are more common in patients who perform manual labour at work.
- Bursitis: It is the inflammation of the bursa, a sac-like structure covering and protecting the joints. The bursa provides a sort of cushion that supports the articulation, and inflammation leads to significant swelling, pain, and tenderness. What can cause Bursitis to flare-up? It can be due to infection, but it is usually caused by mechanical triggers and relieved with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
Do you need urgent medical attention?
There are several complications to each of the above causes of joint pain in the fingers. Some of them require urgent medical attention, while others are usually relieved after some time. A physician should readily attend a finger fracture and stress fractures in older adults. If you suspect cellulitis, it is imperative to look for urgent medical attention before the infection spreads and worsens.
In the case of ligament sprain, cartilage issues, and bursitis, they are usually relieved by over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, but may sometimes require immobilisation and the assistance of a specialist. Thus, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor if you don’t find relief in home remedies such as cold compresses, rest, and anti-inflammatories.
Prucz, R. B., & Friedrich, J. B. (2015). Finger joint injuries. Clinics in sports medicine, 34(1), 99-116.
Spies, C. K., Langer, M., Hahn, P., Müller, L. P., & Unglaub, F. (2018). The treatment of primary arthritis of the finger and thumb joint. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 115(16), 269.
Chan, D. Y. (2002). Management of simple finger injuries: the splinting regime. Hand Surgery, 7(02), 223-230.