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Obesity linked to osteoarthritis in the hands

Nate Stelner

From aging to obesity, and even normal wear and tear could effect if you will suffer from osteoarthritis in your lifetime. While there is no known way to prevent the onset of osteoarthritis, there are steps you could take to prolong the health of your hands.

Joining us this week to discuss some of the preventative measures you can take, as well as treatment options, is Dr. Daniel Polatsch. Co-director of the New York Hand and Wrist Center of Lenox Hill Hospital, Polatsch is one of the leading doctors in comprehensive management of complex hand, wrist, and elbow disorders in New York.

Arthritis occurs when the cartilage or soft tissue that cushions the end of the bone deteriorates. An X-ray of a normal joint would show space between the bones where the cartilage is. While with arthritic joints, the bones are touching because the cartilage has worn away.

The usual causes of osteoarthritis are wear and tear of the joints, but recently a study has shown that obesity could have an effect on your hands.

"There could be a hormonal component that could also be genetic, so it also could be a genetic component. It also could be a lifestyle component" says Polatsch. "And also if there’s obesity, it’s not just necessarily in your abdomen and your trunk layer, it could be your arm and what you’re lifting and the force you’re using."

Where the arthritis occurs also matters, says Polatsch. The most common place people have arthritis in the hand are the joints below the finger nails. While this type might not be appealing to the eye because it can result in bumps and cysts, this type of arthritis typically is the least painful.

"The more troublesome one is a the base of the thumb where the thumb meets the hand and that is often seen on X-rays and can be debilitating as time goes on and people can have a hard time opening jars and turning keys." says Polatsch.


While there is no way to prevent osteoarthritis, steps could be taken to prolong the onset of it. The most common advice would be to lessen the strain by switching hands while doing tasks that require a lot of grip or force.

Some treatment options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Braces and splints
  • Exercise to increase range of motion
  • Exercise to strengthen the muscles around the joints
  • Steroid injections
  • Joint lubrication

"We see patients for that every single day we are in the office, and there is treatment to make you feel better, but there really hasn’t been anything proven to slow down the progression or halt the process,” Polatsch.