Managing arthritis in the hands – MNT

I have mentioned ‘personal posts’ previously. Well, arthritis pains in the hands are something I live with daily. It doesn’t get more personal than this. For the past 15 years. I have had trouble buttoning shirts, jackets, etc. I drop keys and other small objects regularly. Any activity that involves manipulating fingers and thumbs causes pain to me in a greater of lesser degree. I thought this rundown on managing arthritis in the hands by Medical News Today was very thorough. I hope this subject is never more than academic for you.


This kind of simple activity can be difficult if you have arthritis of the hands.

Many bones in the body, including those of the wrists and hands, are protected by cartilage. Cartilage can wear down over time. As a result, a person can experience a condition known as osteoarthritis.

Another name for this type of arthritis is “wear and tear” arthritis. The most common causes of osteoarthritis include age, repetitive joint movement, trauma, and sex. Genetics can also play a factor in the development of osteoarthritis.

Arthritis in the hands may also be caused by rheumatoid arthritis or post-traumatic arthritis.

Fast facts on arthritis in hands:

Women are more likely than men to experience osteoarthritis.
There is no cure for any type of arthritis in hands.
Treatment focuses on relieving the pain and managing the underlying condition.
In rare instances, a doctor may recommend surgery to repair a severely damaged finger joint.

What types of arthritis affect the hands?

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect the hands.

While osteoarthritis is due to degenerative changes in cartilage, RA is the result of an autoimmune condition.

RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue that protects the joints. The resulting symptoms can be similar to those of osteoarthritis, including pain, inflammation, and redness.

RA can occur with no risk factors. However, women are more likely to experience the condition than men. Those with a family history of RA, who are obese, or who smoke are also at a greater risk of developing it.

While a person can experience RA at any age, the most common age of onset is between 40 and 60.

A person can also experience post-traumatic arthritis in the hands. This occurs after a person has damaged their hands, such as in a sport-related injury or accident.

Broken or sprained fingers or wrists can also cause post-traumatic arthritis. Injuries can accelerate the breakdown of protective cartilage as well as cause inflammation.

Most types of arthritis cause:

pain with movement or when at rest
joint swelling
joint stiffness
joint deformity
weakness and loss of muscle mass
loss of joint and muscle function

Symptoms differ slightly depending on the type of arthritis. These differences can help a doctor determine the correct underlying cause of arthritis symptoms in the hands.

Osteoarthritis symptoms

bony lumps (known as nodes or nodules) at the middle finger joint
bony lumps or nodes at the finger joint closest to the fingernail
pain that occurs deep under the base of the thumb
stiffness, especially in the morning
difficulty pinching and gripping items

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

pain at the wrist and finger knuckles
deformities of the wrist and fingers where they will not straighten
tendon ruptures, which affect the ability of the fingers to straighten
unexplained fatigue
flu-like achiness throughout the body

Post-traumatic arthritis symptoms

pain, primarily where the former injury occurred
worsening deformity following an injury

Many of the post-traumatic arthritis symptoms are similar to those of RA and osteoarthritis. However, with post-traumatic arthritis, a person can usually attribute their symptoms to a previous injury.

How is it diagnosed?

Questions a doctor may ask to help diagnose arthritis in the hands include:

When did the symptoms start?
What makes them worse?
What makes the symptoms better?
Have there been any injuries to the hands recently?
Are there other symptoms (fever, weight loss, rash, unexplained fatigue, dry eyes, or dry mouth)?

A doctor will also perform a physical examination of the hands to identify any abnormalities. Doctors are specifically looking for deformities in the hand, such as slightly crooked fingers or distinct nodules.

They may also order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

A doctor may also test the blood for the presence inflammation and immune markers. If a joint is swollen and has fluid in it, the fluid may be aspirated (removed) and analyzed.
Home remedies

Medications and physical therapy treatments for patients with arthritis are available. However, home remedies can also help to relieve and reduce some of the symptoms.
Hand exercises

Exercises can help to keep the supportive ligaments and tendons in the hands flexible and may also help reduce pain in the hands.

To help alleviate arthritic pain in the hands, a person can try:

Making a loose fist and opening the fingers to fully straighten them, repeating this several times on each hand.
Bending a finger slowly and carefully, then slowly straightening it out again, and repeating with all fingers.
Placing the hand on a flat surface with fingers extended and slowly lifting each finger off the surface. Hold the finger at the highest point it can reach for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat with each finger.

It is best to do these exercises using gentle motions. Physical therapists who specialize in hands may be able to recommend exercises as well.

Resting the hands from activities that cause pain and overuse can also help to reduce pain.
Hot and cold therapy

Applying ice to swollen joints for 10 minutes at a time can help reduce swelling. The ice should always have a protective covering, such as a cloth, to prevent skin damage.

Heat therapy can sometimes help to ease stiff joints. Placing the hands in a tub of warm water can help.

Paraffin wax treatments have also been proven to be soothing and help ease stiffness and pain. Wax treatments should only be done under the supervision of a physical therapist.


Splinting can involve wearing a protective brace on the hand, which may resemble a fingerless glove.

There are also “sleeve” brace options that will fit a single finger or multiple fingers, depending on the source of arthritis pain.

By holding the joint still, these braces ideally reduce the incidence of pain.
Capsaicin creams

Capsaicin uses a compound from cayenne pepper to relieve pain. A person can make capsaicin cream by adding 2 to 3 sprinkles of cayenne pepper to 2 to 3 teaspoons of olive oil and applying to the hands.

Do not use this preparation on broken skin or skin with a cut. A person may experience a tingling sensation after applying the cream or oil.

A person should avoid touching their eyes and mouth after using this method, as it can cause pain and burning.

Medical treatments for arthritis

In addition to home remedies for arthritis in hands, there are medical treatments a person can use to reduce their symptoms.

These include:

nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for the treatment of RA
biologics for the treatment of RA
oral steroids or steroid shots to reduce inflammation
cortisone injections

In rare cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat arthritis in the hands. The type of surgery will depend on the extent of the arthritis and the individual’s lifestyle.

For example, a surgery that fuses two affected bones together is usually a better option for people who are more active.

Those who are less active may prefer a joint replacement. A person should discuss all of their options with a doctor to ensure they understand the risks involved with surgery.


While it is not possible to prevent arthritis, a person can monitor their joints for signs of the disease as they age. Staying active, reducing sugar intake, and not smoking can also reduce the risk of arthritis.

Regularly exercising the hands may help keep the joints functioning for longer. Hand exercises can also reduce pain and stiffness if a person already has arthritis.

While arthritis in the hands may not have a cure, many treatments are available that can ideally prevent arthritis from worsening over time.

The sooner a person seeks treatment, the faster they can find relief and slow the progression of the condition.

If you feel that you would like to read more on hand osteoarthritis, here are some of my posts:

Harvard offers 7 tips for arthritis sufferers

Is it okay to exercise with arthritis?

How to deal with arthritis of the hands – Harvard

Alternative and complementary treatments for arthritis – Harvard

Arthritis and trace minerals

What are good exercises for arthritis?

The Mayo Clinic on arthritis and NSAIDS

I stopped there, but I wrote more posts. If you are a glutton for punishment or info on arthritis type a r t h r i t i s into the SEARCH box at the right and  you will find more.







Filed under aging, arthritis, hand arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoarthritis pain, rheumatoid arthritis, successful aging

8 responses to “Managing arthritis in the hands – MNT

  1. SteamTrainFitness

    Hi Tony… you, I have arthritis at the base of my thumb too. My right hand is worse than my left…….probably because I use a mouse in that hand. One thing I do at the gym most days is a few exercises that help. I have deduced that because your fingers don’t have muscles and they are operated remotely by the muscles above your wrist (forearm) I make sure I do a few exercises for this area of my body. Any grip exercises are also good… hanging from a pull-up bar. Another one I do is wall push-ups on my finger tips – 3 to 4 sets of 25. This is also good for carpal tunnel.
    Hope this helps – cheers – John – your Active Ageing Mentor and Coach.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Knitting! It keeps the fingers limber and you end up with something useful you can wear or give away as a gift. In fact, there is a medical study being done in Ottawa at the moment to quantify the effectiveness of knitting. Knit one, perl two!

    Liked by 2 people

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