What Causes Arthritis in the Fingers?

Fact Checked

icanmocan/iStock/Getty Images

When the joints in your fingers begin to hurt, it can limit your daily activities. According to the Hand University, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, arthritis is characterized by redness, swelling and pain in the joints, caused by inflammation. Degenerative arthritis, or osteoarthritis, primarily is caused by overuse. Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition caused by a virus or bacteria.


A joint that has been sprained or broken can damage the cartilage in your fingers and cause arthritis. Bone fragments may not heal properly and the joint becomes altered. Damage multiplies as the joints are used and the fingers begin to display symptoms of arthritis. Pain is the first sign of arthritis and appears even when the hand is at rest. X-rays can reveal the extent of the damage to the joints. Topical creams and inflammation-reducing medications can relieve symptoms, while changes in how the fingers are used can prevent additional pain and swelling.


Repetitive motions and overuse can spur the onset of osteoarthritis in the hands and fingers. The Cleveland Clinic reports the condition is most common later in life, after years of overuse. While women tend to develop degenerative arthritis more than men, nearly 60 percent of adults older than age 60 have some degree of arthritis in their fingers. As the cartilage in your fingers continues to disintegrate, there often are associated noises, like grinding or clicking. Joints become swollen and red, limiting movement. Changing the repetitive activity, whether it's work-related, on a computer or a machine, or related to a hobby such as knitting or crocheting, can help diminish arthritis symptoms. A brace or other device that keeps the fingers in place can help relieve pain and inflammation. Cortisone injections and exercises also help slow degeneration of the joints.


Bacteria or viruses that have spread through the bloodstream to the fingers can cause rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation caused by the virus accumulates over time and creates a thickening of the membranes surrounding the joints. Eventually, the joint can become permanently damaged, lose its shape and is destroyed, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic. While researchers do not yet know why rheumatoid arthritis develops from the virus, they believe it is caused by a variety of reasons, ranging from heredity to lifestyle. Smoking increases the risk of developing the condition, especially when other members of a family have the disease. Steroids and other arthritis medications help to relieve the symptoms, but often a joint must be replaced with surgery.