Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by breakdown of cartilage, with eventual loss of the cartilage of the joints. Cartilage is a protein substance that serves as a “cushion” between the bones of the joints. When the cartilage deteriorates (degenerates), the bone next to it becomes inflamed and can be stimulated to produce new bone in the form of a local bony protrusion, called a “spur.”
A very common early sign of osteoarthritis is a knobby bony deformity at the smallest joint of the end of the fingers. This is referred to as a Heberden’s node, named after a very famous British doctor. The bony deformity is a result of the bone spurs from the osteoarthritis in that joint. Another common bony knob (node) occurs at the middle joint of the fingers in many patients with osteoarthritis and is called a Bouchard’s node. Dr. Bouchard was a famous French doctor who also studied arthritis patients at the turn of the last century. The Heberden’s and Bouchard’s nodes may not be painful, but they are often associated with limitation of motion of the joint. The characteristic appearances of these finger nodes can be helpful in diagnosing osteoarthritis.
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