No one knows exactly why some people get osteoarthritis in their hands, but certain traits make it more likely:
- Hand trauma. A broken bone, dislocation (for example, when a finger bone separates from the joint), or a 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.
- Repetitive movements. People whose jobs require repetitive hand movements are more likely to develop osteoarthritis. For example, research suggests that women who work as clothing manufacturers, hairdressers, or bakers have higher rates of hand osteoarthritis compared with professional workers.1,2
- Female gender and advanced age. According to a study cited by the CDC,3 9% of women and 4% of men over the age of 26 have hand osteoarthritis that causes pain and can be seen on an X-ray. Those numbers increase to 26% in women and 13% in men when considering people age 71 and older.4
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- Family history. 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,5 though genetic testing is not necessary or recommended for diagnosis.
- Obesity. 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.6,7 This link may have to do with excess fat and its effect on the body’s biochemistry.8 More study is needed in this area.
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 arthritis.