If you’ve noticed some changes in your hands over the past few months or years that is disturbing to you, you’re not alone. As we age, our hand’s age too, and just like everything else, it’s not usually for the better. (Which reminds me: I need to wear more sunscreen and start buying spandex undergarments.)
Many people notice (and ask me) about the development of bumps, or “nodes” along the sides of their joints. They can be located at the big knuckle (the PIP joint) and are called Bouchard’s nodes or the smaller knuckle (DIP joint) located just past your fingernails, where they are called Heberden’s nodes. Usually, these bumps form just a short while after a person has had pain and swelling in that same area. Maybe they’ve noticed some stiffness in the mornings that seems to go away with activity. But eventually, the soreness goes away and the little “bump” forms.
So what is it?
Well, I hate to be the Debbie downer here, but it’s a sign of osteoarthritis in the joint. As we age, our joints have undergone a lot of wear and tear with the activities we’ve done. The cushiony ends of the bone (cartilage) start to wear away, leaving the bony ends exposed to excess stress when they rub against each other. This is what we call arthritis. When the bone gets irritated from the rubbing, it builds up calcific spurs, and this is what you notice as a “bump” or “node” on your finger. It can happen because of a traumatic event, but most often is just a sign of aging joints. Sorry.
Just like every other disease process in the body, there are varying degrees of severity with these nodes. I’ve included some pictures so that you can compare your bumps to the examples given here. It’s important to understand that a node isn’t a death sentence. It doesn’t have to mean there will be pain or decreased use of the fingers. Many people have absolutely no pain at all, and the bump never changes, worsens, or affects them in any way.
But if you are noticing that your nodes are tender, you are having trouble with stiffness, or your fingers are starting to get a little crooked, you need to take action. There are treatments available to slow down the disease process and make you more comfortable. Don’t give up the piano yet!
So what can I do about it?
1) Well, first of all, if your fingers are sore, figure out what makes them feel better. Can you move better after they are warmed up (like after a shower), or does ice soothe your joints? Can you push on the joint with your other hand and relieve some of the pressure? What tricks have you figured out to relieve the pain? People are naturals at this. We may not know what’s going on with us, but we naturally come up with ways to feel better. Note those tricks and do them! You don’t HAVE to live with pain.
2) Talk to your doctor. He will probably do x-rays to confirm that you are developing arthritis in your fingers. If he doesn’t already recommend it, ask for a referral to a certified hand therapist. CHT’s deal with this every day, and we are more than happy to problem-solve with you to come up with solutions. We have activity modification strategies, adaptive equipment to make your life easier and splinting options. The world is our oyster and we are ready to share it with you.
3) Contact me. Just want to know more? Email me and tell me what’s going on with you! I can point you in the right direction.
May all your days be happy and your fingers are straight.