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Nodular Arthritis Guide for the Elderly: Lumps & Bumps on Fingers

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Arthritic nodules are a common issue for people living with arthritis, especially senior citizens. While they are typically painless, they can be concerning to arthritis sufferers and their loved ones. In this guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know about nodular arthritis, including the different types, causes, associated problems and treatments.

Nodular arthritis: the basics

To begin with, the two main types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake, causing inflammation. On the other hand, osteoarthritis refers to wear and tear of the joints when cartilage breaks down, and is common in elderly people.

Rather than being a type in its own right, nodular arthritis is a symptom of either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. It’s estimated that arthritis lumps are present for 20% of people living with rheumatoid arthritis, for example. In both cases, lumps are typically pea-sized, although they can be bigger with rheumatoid arthritis.

The difference between arthritic nodes

Arthritis lumps can vary depending on whether they’re caused by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Arthritic finger nodes from osteoarthritis

Arthritis lumps caused by osteoarthritis are confined to joints on the hand. They’re known as Heberden’s nodes and Bouchard’s nodes. Heberden’s nodes are those on the joint closest to your fingertips, while Bouchard’s nodes are located on the fingers’ middle joints. Nodular arthritis of this kind can also occur at the base of the thumb.

Like other symptoms of osteoarthritis, they are caused by a breakdown of cartilage, which leads to wear and tear on the joint. This causes bony growths, which results in arthritis bumps on fingers.

Rheumatoid arthritis nodules

Rheumatoid nodule arthritis can likewise cause arthritis lumps on fingers, but they are also commonly found on the rest of the hand, knuckles and elbows. In some rare cases, rheumatoid arthritis can cause lumps on vocal cords and organs.

For people who are confined to their bed, there’s also the risk of nodular arthritis in areas of the body which touch the bed. This includes the heel, back of the head, hip and tailbone.

Unlike osteoarthritis, these arthritis nodules are caused by inflammation. Because of the underlying immune disease, the immune system is attacking the cells around the affected areas by mistake, causing arthritis bumps on fingers or elsewhere.

Causes of nodule arthritis

As we’ve outlined above, the cause of nodular arthritis can be either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are some factors which can increase the likelihood of arthritis lumps or cause them to worsen, such as:

  • Movement – Repetitive movement or high-impact sports can put stress on certain joints and cause arthritic nodules.
  • Obesity – Carrying more weight can put more stress on joints, which can make nodes more likely.
  • SmokingResearch has found a link between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis nodules, especially for those who have smoked for more than 20 years.
  • Gout – This condition can cause bones to erode around the joints.
  • Time – You are more likely to develop lumps or bumps the longer you have arthritis.
  • Severity – Having more severe rheumatoid arthritis also makes nodules more likely.
  • Sex – Nodular arthritis is more common in women than men, with lumps and bumps also coming earlier for women.

Problems with nodules from arthritis

Fortunately for people who have them, arthritic nodules on fingers and other parts of the body aren’t typically a cause for concern. Rheumatoid arthritis nodes aren’t painful, unless they’re located by a nerve or other, existing inflammation. That said, they may cause some discomfort or restrict your movement.

On the other hand, Hebderden’s and Bouchard’s nodes from osteoarthritis can become an issue. While they won’t develop into anything more serious, arthritis bumps on fingers can make it difficult to perform simple tasks like fastening buttons, tying shoes or opening jars and bottles.

One of the more serious concerns is that these nodes make it difficult to use a phone when assistance is needed. If this is an issue, a one-touch personal alarm can provide much-needed reassurance. Rather than having to dial or type, you can simply press a button to connect to support.

Treatments for nodular arthritis for the elderly

Because they don’t lead to any specific problems, arthritis nodules on fingers and hands are generally treated as part and parcel of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. As such, the advice for coping with them is the same as arthritis more broadly:

  • Managing your weight to reduce stress on joints.
  • Low-impact exercise to avoid excessive demand.
  • Small lifestyle changes to eliminate problem activities, such as jar and bottle opening devices.
  • Resting your hand whenever possible.
  • Wearing splints to support finger joints.
  • Painkillers to reduce pain day-to-day.
  • Anti-inflammatories to manage symptoms.
  • Hot and cold packs to reduce swelling and ease pain.
  • Physiotherapists may also be able to recommend hand exercises to assist mobility without impacting nodular arthritis.

That said, there are some medical and surgical treatments for arthritic finger nodes, including:

  • Steroids – Steroids can be injected directly into the affected area to shrink arthritis lumps. However, this doesn’t stop nodes regrowing.
  • Removal – Lumps can be surgically removed if they are causing severe mobility issues or they become infected. Again, they can come back in the same spot after being removed.
  • Fusion – For osteoarthritis, finger bones can be fused together to remove worn cartilage.
  • Stimulation - Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can override pain signals or release endorphins which work as natural painkillers. This is done by sending an electric current to nerves.

Could a personal alarm help?

A personal alarm can assist people living with arthritis in a number of ways, providing support and reassurance when needed. Alarms with a one-touch SOS button mean you don’t need to struggle with typing or dialling when help is needed. There’s also no need to reach a base unit, which can be problematic if the underlying arthritis is also causing mobility issues.

With an increased risk of falls and fracturing, a fall detection alarm is also a useful feature for people living with arthritis. The alarm will automatically call for support when a fall is detected, so you can live your life with more freedom and less worry.

If you would like to find out more about personal alarms and how they can help with arthritis, contact the SureSafe team on 0800 112 3201. You can also use our live chat or request a call back.

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