The metacarpophalangeal joint pain is a common occurrence, due to the fact that the respective joints are used quite a lot and, thus, present a higher risk for the common wear and tear.
The aging process, as well as a number of medical conditions can favor the appearance of MCP joint pain.
It is important for these to be adequately diagnosed, as only the treatment of the underlying condition will help prevent such a symptom.
Keep on reading and discover more useful information on the subject. And, remember, pain is often a signal that something does not function as it should.
The metacarpophalangeal joints connect the metacarpal bones to the proximal phalanges of the digits. They are responsible for a wide range of movements, including flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and circumduction.
These joints, as you will have the opportunity to read below, are often affected by inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis in particular).
Symptoms That Accompany The MCP Joint Pain
Redness and warmth can also be present as symptoms, being suggestive of infection.
Diagnosis of the Underlying Condition
If the patient comes in with MCP joint pain, the doctor will perform a number of functional tests and investigations.
The main purpose is to diagnose the underlying condition and recommend a course of treatment that will solve the MCP joint pain.
Often times, imaging investigations are used, in order to get a better look at the respective joints (and see the extent of the condition).
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Causes of Metacarpophalangeal Joint Pain
It should be mentioned that there are a number of medical conditions that can lead to MCP joint pain, among other symptoms.
One of the most common is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition which affects not only the joints but also the cartilage, surrounding connective tissues and tendons.
According to Science Direct, the severity of rheumatoid arthritis can range from mild to serious; severe forms can prevent the patient from using his/her hands, having a negative impact on the overall quality of life.
Another common cause of MCP joint pain is osteoarthritis, which is an inflammatory condition as well. This is often favored by the repetitive usage of the MCP joints, with the breakdown of cartilage being a common occurrence.
If the cartilage is no longer intact, the joint is not properly protected and lubricated. As the bones will grind on one another, pain and inflammation will appear as common symptoms.
Once again, depending on the severity of the condition, the patient might be prevented from fully functioning.
Gout can also lead to MCP joint pain, as the inflammatory process extends and covers such smaller joints.
What happens is that the uric acid begins to accumulate at the level of the joints; when it reaches an abnormal level, it will lead to swelling, pain and reduced range of motion.
The affected joints are warm to the touch and a pulsating sensation can be present. The more uric acid builds in the joints, the more severe the symptoms are going to be.
Pseudogout, which is actually a form of arthritis, can affect the metacarpophalangeal joints and cause pain, among other symptoms.
The condition is similar to gout, with the inflammation and pain being caused by the excess accumulation of crystal deposits. The risk of metacarpophalangeal joint pain caused by pseudogout is considerably higher in older people.
If you are suffering from psoriatic arthritis, it is highly likely you will suffer from MCP joint pain as well.
The inflammatory process characteristic for the arthritic condition will cause the joints to become tender and painful; moreover, due to these symptoms, the range of motion in the MCP joint will be reduced.
Morning stiffness is also present, preventing the patient from engaging in daily living activities.
Physical injuries, especially fractures, can cause MCP joint pain, requiring immediate intervention.
Depending on the severity of the fracture, one might require casting or surgical correction. Open fractures are even more severe, presenting a high risk of infection.
Synovial osteochondromatosis is a rheumatologic condition, which can cause swelling and pain at the level of the MCP joint. According to a study published in the Iowa Orthop J, it is important to note that this condition does not normally affect these joints, but it is nevertheless possible.
Tenderness to palpation and a reduced range of motion can be part of the clinical picture. All of these symptoms can cause a functional deficit, preventing the patient from engaging in daily living or work-related activities.
MCP Joint Dislocation
The MCP joint can become dislocated in accidents involving the hands, requiring casting and/or surgical intervention.
Immobilization of the said joint should not be prolonged; otherwise, the functionality of the hand will be affected. Splints can also be used, as they will maintain the joint in a correct position.
Surgical interventions are generally recommended for more severe dislocations, requiring a longer period of recovery.
How Can Metacarpophalangeal Joint Pain Be Treated?
These are the most common measures of treatment recommended for MCP joint pain and its underlying causes:
1. Anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs)
- Oral/topical administration
- Should be taken with precaution by those who suffer from liver disease (oral medication)
- Provide relief from the pain and inflammation, improving the overall level of functionality for the patient in question
- Recommended for more severe MCP joint pain
- Should be taken with precaution and only in the recommended dosage, as they can cause addiction (including when taken for longer than it is allowed)
3. Corticosteroid Injections
- These can be administered in the situation that the patient presents chronic pain, of intense severity
- Represent a short-term solution and they cannot be administered for prolonged periods of time
4. Topical Creams With Natural Ingredients
- Menthol/capsaicin cream
- Recommended for the relief of pain and inflammation
- Reduced risk of side-effects and/or allergic reactions
5. Medication For Arthritis
- Antirheumatic drugs – recommended for autoimmune arthritis
- Most common – methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine
- Purpose of the medication is to stop the immune system from attacking the joints, thus improving the symptomatology experienced
6. Surgical Interventions
- Joint repair – This is recommended in the situation one suffers from arthritis or joint dislocation/fracture; the realignment of the joint will ensure pain relief and an improvement of hand function
- Joint replacement – Often performed for joints that have been damaged by the severe inflammation
- Joint fusion – recommended for smaller joints, such as the ones of the hands.
- Can provide relief from the pain in case of arthritis
- Recommended for both acute and chronic MCP joint pain
8. Glucosamine Supplements
- Administered to those who suffer from arthritis, being able to improve the health of the joints
- Can prevent the further degeneration of the MCP joint, providing relief from the pain at the same time
- Gentle massage can stimulate the blood circulation around the MCP joint
- Anti-inflammatory & pain relieving properties
- Can improve the range of motion in the affected joints.
9. Physical Therapy
- Program of exercises meant to relieve the pain and inflammation at the level of the affected joints.
- The exercises can stretch and strengthen the tiny muscles around the MCP joint, improving the overall range of motion.
- Physical therapy is meant to restore the healthy hand function, allowing the patient to get back to his/her normal daily living activities
10. Occupational Therapy
- Especially important, given the fact that the hand covers so many complex motions
- Adaptation of daily living activities, in accordance with the current potential of the hand
- Therapy meant to improve the outcome of functional abilities
- The application of kinesiology tape can reduce both the pain and inflammation present in the MCP joint
- The tape can be maintained for several days and then changed; the treatment usually lasts for several weeks or until an improvement in the overall symptomatology is obtained
- This form of therapy is especially recommended to those who suffer from severe forms of arthritis
- Movements are easier to perform under water, given the fact that the patient does not have to defeat gravitation
- Hydrotherapy can bring relief from the pain and reduce inflammation, allowing the patient to feel better overall.
As you have seen, there are numerous causes that can lead to the appearance of the MCP joint pain. An inflammatory process almost always accompanies the pain in the respective joints, requiring more or less immediate intervention.
The longer the treatment is delayed, the more the functionality of the hand is going to be affected. It is important not to ignore the MCP joint pain and visit the doctor for a correct diagnosis.
Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, you will be recommended a proper course of treatment to be followed. The treatment will most likely address not only the symptoms but also the underlying causes.
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