Finger Joint Pain: 6 Common Causes & What to Do

Clinical review: Marcelle Pinheiro
Physiotherapist
November 2022

Finger joint pain is relatively common and is often felt when moving the fingers. It can affect just the middle finger joints, the knuckles closer to the wrist, or the entire finger.

Although this type of pain is more common in older adults due to normal aging and breakdown, it can also occur in younger patients, especially after participating in contact sports, like basketball or football.  

If finger joint pain occurs due to direct trauma to the fingers, ice can be applied to the area. However, if the pain persists for over 2 or 3 days, you should seek medical attention for assessment and treatment. Older adults with finger joint pain should be assessed by a family doctor or rheumatologist to better understand if there are any underlying causes that require more specific treatment. 

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Causes of finger joint pain

The main causes of pain felt in the finger joints include:

1. Direct trauma

This is the pain cause of finger joint pain in younger patients. It is easily identified, as it emerges immediately after impacts from sports or car accidents, for example. 

Usually, this type of injury results in sudden joint pain and swelling that gradually resolves on its own. However, pain and swelling can worsen with finger movement. 

What to do: Mild injuries can be relieved with rest and ice applied for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 to 4 times per day. However, pain that does not improve or worsens over 2 days should be assessed to see if a more specific treatment is needed. 

2. Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most common causes of persistent finger joint pain in older adults. This condition emerges with gradual breakdown of the cartilage that surrounds the joints. 

Generally, arthritis will first affect the joints in the fingers, as they are the joints that are most used in day-to-day activites. However, this condition can also affect the toes, especially in people who frequently use their feet, like marathon runners and soccer players. 

What to do: Applying ice may help to relieve joint pain, however if you suspect you may have arthritis, you should see a rheumatologist for assessment. Treatment may involve physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medication. 

3. Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome may be suspected in patients who present with finger joint pain, especially in younger patients with no history of hand injuries or repetitively using the joints. 

This condition can cause a tingling pain in the fingers, as well as difficulty holding objects, decreased sensitivity and mild swelling in the fingers. 

What to do: Most cases of CTS are treated with nerve decompression surgery to repair the wrist nerve that is causing symptoms. More conservative treatment may include using a wrist splint and hand stretches to relieve discomfort.

4. Tenosynovitis

Tenosynovitis is characterized by inflammation of a tendon that causes weakness in the affected area. Tenosynovitis that occurs near a joint can lead to pain that radiates to the finger joints, making it difficulty to move the fingers. .

This type of injury is more common in people who repetitively move their hands for work or hobbies. It can be cured, although some cases are chronic and treatment is aimed just at managing symptoms. 

What to do: Generally, diagnosis is confirmed by a rheumatologist or orthopedic surgeon. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, however the doctor may recommend rest and ice to relieve symptoms. Gentle massage in the area may also be beneficial, as well as prescription medication.  

5. Gout

Gout occurs when levels of uric acid in the body are high, resulting in the build-up of uric acid crystals around the joints. This condition can cause swelling and pain, especially when moving affected joints.

Because they are smaller, finger and toe joints are the first joints to be affected. However, people with gout can present with other affected joints, especially if they do not adhere to a gout diet that reduces uric acid levels. Learn more about the symptoms of gout and what can cause it. 

What to do: You are advised to reduce your intake of uric acid by decreasing consumption of red meats, seafood and high-protein foods like cheese and lentils. Read more about maintaining a gout diet, and what to eat and avoid.  During gout flare-ups, the doctor may recommend anti-inflammatories to relieve pain and swelling. 

6. Lupus

This is an autoimmune disease characterized by immune cells attacking other healthy cells in the body, destroying healthy tissue. Lupus can affect the joints and cause inflammation, pain and difficulty moving the fingers. 

Generally, finger joint pain is one of the first signs of lupus. Anther more characteristic symptom of lupus is a butterfly rash on the face. Learn about the other symptoms of lupus and what can cause it. 

What to do: Depending on the symptoms, treatment may include the use of corticosteroids and immunosuppressants to reduce immune response on the cells. However, it is important to have regular follow-ups with a doctor or specialist for ongoing assessment of symptoms.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in November 2022. Clinical review completed by Marcelle Pinheiro - Physiotherapist in November 2022.
Clinical review:
Marcelle Pinheiro
Physiotherapist
Physiotherapist degree provided by the University of Estácio de Sá (Brazil). Licensed to practice under CREFITO #170751.