RA is a systemic disease that is frequently treated with medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARDs)—including methotrexate—and biologics.

However, there are certain treatments designed for the hand:

  • Occupational therapy can strengthen the joints in the wrists and fingers and improve hand dexterity. In addition to improving a hand’s ability to function, occupational therapy can decrease the risk of future deformity.
  • Splinting can stabilize the hand joints and limit further deformity. There are several different types of braces, including smaller braces that stabilize individual knuckles and larger ones that stabilize the wrist and hand. Splinting has become less common, in part because finger and wrist joint replacement surgery has become more common.
  • Finger and wrist joint replacement surgery has advanced in recent years. This surgery is not a cure but a treatment for patients who have lost hand function due to deformity. During the procedure a hand surgeon will remove the damaged bone surfaces of the joint and replace them with prostheses made of metal and plastic.

The sooner steps are taken to prevent joint damage the better the chances for avoiding hand deformities.

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Tips for People with RA Symptoms in Their Hands

Rheumatoid arthritis can limit hand dexterity and make everyday tasks difficult and painful. Below are some examples of tools and shortcuts that can help relieve stress on the joints and make some tasks easier.

  • Wear coats and shirts with zippers instead of buttons.
  • Long zipper pulls are larger than regular zipper pulls, making them easier to grasp. Some specialized zipper pulls are made with looped cloth or nylon that allow the user to stick a finger through and pull up or down.
  • Choose lightweight cooking and gardening tools that are easier to hold.
  • Buy slip-on shoes to avoid having to tie shoelaces.

People may find additional ways to customize their home and routines that help them work around the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis of the hand.

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but symptoms in the hand and wrist can be managed with medication, physical therapy, splinting, and—in some cases—surgery.

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