What are some effective treatments for osteoarthritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have osteoarthritis of my hands. Are any treatments particularly effective for this condition?

DEAR READER: Osteoarthritis causes stiffness and pain in the joints. It develops when cartilage -- the tissue that covers the ends of bones -- deteriorates. In the hand, osteoarthritis usually strikes the joint at the base of the thumb and the last joints before the tip of the fingers.

Do we have muscles in our fingers?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend told me that we have no muscles in our fingers. Is that true? If so, then how do our fingers do all that they do?

DEAR READER: It is true, but our hands work wonderfully anyway. That's because even though there are no muscles in the fingers, 34 muscles in the palms and forearms make the fingers work. And our fingers perform a remarkable variety of feats, from the practical (opening doors and typing), to conveying information (through sign language or applause), to gathering information about the environment through our sense of touch.

Do I have Raynaud’s?

DEAR DOCTOR K: When I'm out in the cold, my fingers quickly go from cold to numb and often turn whitish. This goes beyond normal feelings of cold. What could be going on?

DEAR READER: What you're describing -- cold, white (sometimes even bluish), numb fingers -- are the hallmarks of an illness called Raynaud's phenomenon. When I first learned about Raynaud's in medical school, I called it the "almost patriotic" illness. That's because its colors are white, blue and red, in that order: WHITE. When people with Raynaud's go out into cold weather, the first thing that happens is that small arteries in the fingers go into spasm.

What is the best treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have cubital tunnel syndrome. What's the best treatment for it?

DEAR READER: Cubital tunnel syndrome is a trapped or pinched nerve problem, much like its better-known relative, carpal tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve gets compressed. The ulnar nerve extends from the spinal cord in your neck to your forearm and the pinky side of your hand. The nerve passes through a series of passageways, or tunnels. The tunnels are composed of tough layers of fibers that can pinch the nerve running through them.

What can I do about a painful “trigger finger”?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful trigger finger on my left hand. What caused it, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: The term "trigger finger" may conjure up visions of sharpshooters and hunters -- people who sometimes are too quick to draw their guns. To doctors, however, "trigger finger" refers to a condition that occurs when the finger briefly locks and then suddenly releases as you try to bend or straighten it. This often causes a snapping sound.

How can I relieve my carpal tunnel discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have carpal tunnel syndrome. How can I relieve the discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR READER: Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain and discomfort in the wrist that can extend into the hand or forearm. It's often caused by activities that require constant use of the wrists. People who spend a lot of time at a computer keyboard, for example, pounding away at the keys, are more likely to experience it.

What are exercises that will help with my stiff hands?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm bothered by pain and stiffness in my hands. It's nothing significant, but enough to interfere with some tasks. Are there any exercises that might help?

DEAR READER: You never realize how many different and essential things you do with your hands until something happens to them. Pain, stiffness or swollen joints can transform even a simple task into a painful ordeal. And millions of people have problems using their hands. Fortunately, the right exercises may help. Start by asking your doctor if you should work with a hand therapist -- an occupational or physical therapist who has specialized education and training in hand rehabilitation.

Do people who are “double-jointed” have twice as many joints?

DEAR DOCTOR K: This may be a silly question, but here goes: Do people who are "double-jointed" have twice as many joints?

DEAR READER: I can see how you might think that. If the question is silly it's because the medical term we use is imprecise and misleading. The term makes it sound as though "double-jointed" people have two joints in places that other people have only one, or that they have twice the normal amount of motion. Neither is true of people who are double-jointed. In fact, the vast majority of humans have the same number of bones and joints.

What can I do about writer’s cramp?

DEAR DOCTOR K: These days I mostly type. But when I write, my hand cramps up within minutes. Is there anything I can do?

DEAR READER: I do most of my "writing" on my computer, too. Whether I'm writing a column, updating a colleague or catching up with a friend, I'm more likely to reach for a keyboard than a pen. But, like you, on the occasions when I do write in longhand, my hand sometimes misbehaves. It doesn't become painful -- the handwriting just is less legible.

What is a wrist replacement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: We've all heard of hip and knee replacements -- but is it true that you can have your wrist replaced too?

DEAR READER: We like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable, but the truth is that some of our parts are replaceable. The joint replacements you hear most about are those of the knees and hips, but surgeons also have been replacing hand joints for decades.