5 Potential Causes of Stiff Hands

5 Potential Causes of Stiff Hands

We use our hands for nearly everything. When stiff hands come about, it prevents us from doing daily activities that we take for granted. Stiff hands can prevent you from completing everyday tasks such as opening a jar, cooking, picking up your child, and more. For some, the stiffness may be all the time. For others, it may come and go.

If a hand becomes stiff, it can be caused by a variety of issues, some more serious than others. Here are five potential causes of stiff hands:

  1. Arthritis: There are many different types of arthritis that can affect the hands, including:
    • Thumb arthritis - Also known as basal joint arthritis, thumb arthritis can be caused over time or by a traumatic event. It can cause pain or stiffness at the base of the thumb when performing everyday activities.
    • MCP joint arthritis - MCP stands for the metacarpophalangeal joint, which is typically known as the knuckle. This joint allows us to bend, straighten and spread apart our fingers. It can cause your hands to feel weak.
    • Osteoarthritis - This type of arthritis affects the smooth cartilage in your joints. Like most types of arthritis, it can cause your hands to become stiff, painful and swollen.
    • Psoriatic arthritis - Sometimes seen together with psoriasis (a skin condition), psoriatic arthritis is when the lining of a joint becomes inflamed and swollen. Your joints may feel stiff with this type of arthritis, many times in the middle joint of the finger. 
    • Rheumatoid arthritis - Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joint and can actually affect the entire body, not just the hands. However, it typically involves the wrist and finger joints, causing the joints to be swollen and painful. 
  2. Fractures: A hand fracture is a medical term for a broken hand. If you've broken your hand, while you may still be able to move it, it will likely feel stiff and painful. Even after treatment, the stiffness in your hand may remain while you're recovering. In some people, the stiffness may never go away. It's important to talk to your doctor to make sure your recovery is as best it can be.
  3. Dislocations: Any upper extremity dislocation can cause hands to feel stiff both during and after the injury, similar to a broken bone. Your doctor may give you instructions for exercising or moving your joints during recovery to help with the stiffness. 
  4. Bad sprains: A sprained thumb is an example of an injury that could cause stiffness. A sprain means you've injured the ligament, and it can prevent you from using your hand to perform daily tasks while you are recovering. 
  5. Tendon and muscle injuriesExtensor tendon injuries can happen due to an injury or even a cut on the hand. Flexor tendon injuries can happen from a deep cut. Tendons are what allows us to move our hands, which is why an injured tendon can cause stiffness and more serious symptoms. For some, moving the hand or arm won't be possible at all. If you have surgery after a tendon injury, you will likely feel stiff while recovering.

Be sure to see a hand surgeon if you are feeling stiffness in the hands. The sooner you receive a diagnosis, the better your recovery may be. Sometimes, delaying treatment can result in permanent stiffness. While your stiffness may be the result of a clear injury, sometimes the cause is unknown, which is why your doctor may perform a series of tests and examinations. He/she may recommend stretching, splints or a cast, or even surgery to help you recover. The treatment that’s right for you depends on your diagnosis, medical history and other factors specific to you.

Visit www.HandCare.org to find a hand surgeon near you.

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