While no one knows exactly why hand osteoarthritis develops, certain risk factors can make it more likely. Some risk factors cannot be changed—such as genetics—while others, such as obesity and everyday activities, may be modified or eliminated.
Read this page to learn how certain risk factors influence the development of hand osteoarthritis.
A broken bone, dislocation (when a finger bone separates from the joint), or previous surgery can cause damage that eventually leads to hand osteoarthritis. Symptoms may not appear until many years after the trauma.
Malalignment of a joint(s)
If the bones in the fingers or wrists do not align properly, there can be excess joint friction resulting in increased cartilage wear. A joint malalignment may exist for years before arthritis develops and becomes painful.
People whose jobs require repetitive hand movements are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. For example, research suggests that people who work as clothing manufacturers, hairdressers, or bakers have higher rates of hand osteoarthritis compared with professional workers.1,2
Hand arthritis is most likely to cause symptoms beginning in a person’s 50s or 60s.3,4 Most adults over the age of 55 have signs of hand osteoarthritis that can be seen on X-rays,5 even though many do not experience pain and stiffness.
Women are more likely to develop hand osteoarthritis than men.6 In fact, the authors of one research study found women aged 50 to 60 years were 3.5 times more likely to develop hand osteoarthritis than men in the same age group.3 Women’s overall risk peaks after menopause, around ages 60 to 65 years.3
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Similar to height and hair color, the likelihood of a person developing hand osteoarthritis is influenced by genetics. Researchers suspect that the genes A2BP1 and TBGF1 increase a person’s susceptibility to hand osteoarthritis,7 though genetic testing is not necessary or recommended for diagnosis.
Being overweight is regularly considered a risk factor for osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees, but not for the hands. However, some researchers have found links between obesity and arthritis in the hands.8,9
Evidence suggests the link between excess fat and hand osteoarthritis is related to the body’s biochemistry.10 Obesity is associated with low-grade, systemic (body-wide) inflammation, which may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.11,12 ],13 (Obesity is defined as a BMI ≥ 30.) More research is needed in this area.
Risk factors cannot predict disease
Although these risk factors predispose certain individuals to hand osteoarthritis, some people without any of the above risk factors may develop the condition and some people with all of the above characteristics may never develop osteoarthritis.