September, 2013 – It Must Be Arthritis


Ask the DocsJustin Kearse MD

It must be arthritis

By Justin Kearse, M.D.

“It must be arthritis.”  Many patients that begin experiencing discomfort and problems with their hands, often attribute their new-found problems to arthritis.  Although this is often a cause of hand pain without any particular injury, there are many other potential causes that could be treated in addition to arthritis in the many joints of the wrist, hand, and fingers.

Our hands are a complex machine made up of numerous parts that need to work in unison for a fully functioning, pain-free hand.  When just one of the many moving parts is altered, we can definitely feel the difference, and oftentimes have pain.  In our everyday lives, almost every activity we do requires the use of our hands, and whether our hands work well directly affects our quality of life. My goal as a hand surgeon is for my patients to carry on with their normal life and normal activities without having to even think about their hands or wonder if they will have pain or be unable to do certain activities because problems with their hands limits them.

Depending on the location of your pain, whether in the fingers, at the bottom of the thumb, in the wrist, or in the hand itself, a hand surgeon, with a complete medical evaluation is often able to pinpoint what is causing your problem, and important tests such as X-ray and MRI are oftentimes used to further solidify the diagnosis.  Issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, often presenting as numbness and tingling in the hand, as well as trigger fingers, often presenting as soreness at the base of the finger with or without the finger locking up, can both cause different types of hand pain. Repetitive activities, such as golfing, tennis, knitting, exercising, woodworking, or simply being on the computer or your smart phone a lot could cause inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis) that move your joints, or the joints themselves causing, pain, swelling, and dysfunction of the hand, wrist, or fingers.   In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger fingers, and tendonitis, hand pain may also be coming from other treatable areas of the body such as the neck, shoulder, or elbow. A detailed evaluation of your concerns oftentimes sheds light on the source of pain, in order to customize treatment to get you back to enjoying life.

Although most people know precisely the reason why their hands, fingers, or wrists hurt when sustaining a fall, laceration, crushing injury, automobile accident, or other trauma; sometimes a fracture, tendon or ligament injury, or other soft tissue injury can occur from minimal trauma that you may or may not remember.  Minor falls, lifting something too heavy, over working your body in the gym or at home taking care of the kids, could cause an injury that can be effectively treated in a shorter time frame by being evaluated by a qualified hand specialist instead of letting nature take its course.

Finally, your hand or wrist pain could also be caused by arthritis, and this is diagnosed by careful examination and X-ray.  Arthritis in the hand could be caused by multiple factors including previous injury, immunologic condition such as rheumatoid or psoriasis, or years of wear and tear.  Depending on the cause, there are multiple avenues of potential treatment that are often simple and non-invasive.  Medications, lifestyle modifications, diet changes, creams, and splints are a few of the treatments that may be used prior to any more invasive treatments such as injections and/or surgery.

Whatever the cause of your pain, do not believe it is something you have to live with the rest of your life.  There are readily available treatments and options that can be tailored to your particular problem, in hopes of getting you back to doing what you love to do without worrying about your hands.  Our goal, as hand surgeons, is to restore your quality of life as best as possible, by treating the things you use everyday…your hands.

Dr. Kearse was born and raised in West Palm Beach and graduated from The King’s Academy. He graduated from the University of Florida with honors in microbiology as an undergraduate, and received his medical degree from University of Florida as well. Dr. Kearse completed an Orthopedic surgery residency at University of Florida-Jacksonville, at Shands Hospital, and also completed a Hand Surgery Fellowship at the University of Miami, at Jackson Memorial Hospital.