Friday, October 21, 2011

These Hands.....

Our hands are in constant motion. They draw, paint, write, type, touch, feel and even express love. But for someone with RA, those 
Courtesy luigi diamanti
hands may become stiff, red, inflamed and painful. At times, they may "lock-up".

We've all seen someone with advanced RA damage in the hands causing severe deformities but what about those who live with RA day to day? It's not always easy to recognize "RA hands".  In fact very often the person with RA hears, "but you don't look sick" or even from the medical community "I don't see any signs of RA in your hands."

Someone who is on aggressive treatment for their disease, may not have obvious damage. I asked several of my friends who suffer from RA to send me pictures of their hands. Some of the pictures are of the same hands on different days but they are all photos of hands affected by RA.

 No severe deformity but notice the red knuckles on the fingers and across the top of the hand. You can also see swelling in those knuckles.

This hand also doesn't have the severe damage that we often associate with RA and in this photo there is not a lot of redness but notice the swelling across the knuckles at the top of the hand.

This hand shows some curving of the fingers toward the outside of the hand and it shows some swelling.

This hand shows some curvature toward the outside of the hand and the pinkie finger doesn't straighten. There is also some swelling across the knuckles and a little bit of redness.

 This hand shows some deformity in the thumb. Notice how it curves outward. Also the pinkie finger doesn't straighten. It also shows some swelling at the knuckles but not a lot of redness.

 This hand has some redness and in joints and swelling in the knuckles.
 Slight redness and some swelling in the fingers and hands.

 Some slight curving in the fingers, mild swelling and slight redness.
 Beginning deformity in pinkie finger.
 Mild swelling, redness and some curvature.
 Swelling in some of the knuckles
 Some curvature toward the outside - not much redness or swelling
 Swelling and redness in all of the knuckles and the top of the hand.
Swelling and redness with some curvature of the fingers.
 These photographs depict real patients living with the day to day pain of rheumatoid arthritis. None of these patients show signs of extensive deformity caused by the RA but that doesn't lessen the pain and decreased ability associated with the disease.

The redness and swelling depicted is an indicator of inflammation. When the hands are inflamed, they are painful, stiff and difficult to use. The inflammation is a sign of joint damage. This damage can lead to the gnarled hands that don't function.

Hand involvement is only a small part of the damage this disease does. It affects not only joints but also the heart, lungs, eyes, hearing, ribs, blood vessels, and blood cells.

While the person suffering from RA may not "look sick", he is. RA is an autoimmune disease that affects every aspect of the sufferer's life.


  1. Great blog Marcy! Thanks so much. I agree with your comments. It's hard to talk about it with people because most don't understand. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great post. I see many RA patients on a daily basis and admire so many of them for pushing through the pain, and taking their meds to be able to function on a daily basis. And I'm impressed with how many have such a great attitude toward life despite RA.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Hi, this answers all my questions. Had all the test for ra a year ago but all clear due to other symptoms I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I agree with this but this does not explain my hands.... I was still suspect of ra as I get red, swollen hand knucles, which are painful stiff and puffy fingers at times this is not just in the morning either. Ur article and some of ur pictures show exactly how my hands get. Everything I havecread about arthritis specifies stiffness in the morning but did not give the info u dud which matched. Thank u so much as I knew it wasnt the fibro but couldnt get the right answers to say it wasnt either.

    1. Karen - I am in the same boat as you ...had all the tests for RA (negative), so was diagnosed with Fibro - which I don't agree with. My hands look just like these pictures. Always red and swollen - but I do wash my hands a ton and I wonder if it's more of a dermatology issue.
      Karen did you ever find out a cause?