To determine the distribution of clinically palpable hand interphalangeal (IP) nodes at each finger and thumb joint in a population with nodes, the influence of left or right hand dominance and sex on the development of nodes, and the association between nodes and underlying radiographic features of osteoarthritis (OA).


We performed a cross-sectional analysis of participants in the Genetics of Osteoarthritis and Lifestyle (GOAL) study who had ≥1 Heberden's nodes or Bouchard's nodes on clinical examination. Frequencies (%) of nodes were described for each IP joint in the hand. Associations between nodes and underlying radiographic OA were shown with odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals. A logistic regression model was used to adjust for the following confounding factors: age, sex, body mass index, left or right hand dominance, hand trauma, occupation with heavy manual activity, and participation in sports.


Of the 3,170 GOAL participants, 1,939 had ≥1 nodes (mean age 68 years, 54% women). The distal IP joints of the index finger were the most frequently affected, followed by the thumb IP joint. Nodes were more common in dominant hands and women. There was a significant association between nodes and underlying radiographic OA (OR range 2.26–21.23). This association was stronger for joint space narrowing than for osteophytes. A dose-response relationship was found between clinical severity of Heberden's nodes and underlying radiographic change.


Our study supports the positive association between nodes and radiographic OA, especially narrowing, and the influence of sex and left or right hand dominance on development of nodes. In this age group, presence of nodes may be taken as an indication of underlying small joint OA.