When osteoarthritis affects your hands, everyday activities such as opening jars and using a cell phone can be difficult. Arthritic joints in the hands or wrists may be painful, stiff, and weaker than normal. Thankfully, there are many ways to help manage this condition.
Read on to learn 5 simple strategies for coping with osteoarthritic pain in the hand.
1. Exercise your hands
You can help maintain flexibility, strength, and range of motion in your hands by doing specific exercises. Consider these:
- Hold your hand in an open, natural position. Then, move your thumb to the base of the pinky finger, or as far as you can reach. Repeat this movement several times on each hand.
- Hold your hand in the air, keeping the fingers upright and close together. Then, bend the middle joints of your fingers and make a fist. Gradually return your fingers to the original position and repeat. Perform this exercise on both hands.
- Again, hold your hand in the air, keeping the fingers upright and close together. Next, make a “c” shape using your fingers and thumb. Gently come out of the position and repeat. Perform this exercise with both hands.
Keeping osteoarthritic joints healthy requires finding the right balance between activity and rest. If you are a hairstylist, for example, schedule a brief rest in between appointments to give your hands a break.
2. Apply heat or cold
Experiment with the options below to find out whether heat, cold, or a combination of the two provide you relief.
- Applying heat can help calm hand pain and stiffness by relaxing soft tissues, increasing circulation, and stimulating the production of joint fluid. There are many ways to apply heat, including using an electric heating pad, warm water bottle, moist heating pad, paraffin wax bath, or a heat wrap.
- Applying cold can ease inflammation and swelling associated with arthritic hand pain and stiffness. Apply a cold pack to the affected hand joint(s) for 10 to 20 minutes. Be sure to cover the pack with a towel or cloth to prevent ice burn.
A physician and/or occupational therapist may have input on which therapy will best fit your needs.
3. Make a few wardrobe changes
Minor changes to your wardrobe can reduce strain on your hands, helping to ease your overall pain and stiffness. For example, try wearing:
- Shoes that slip on or use Velcro rather than shoelaces
- Shirts that pull over the head rather than button up
- Pants that have elastic waistbands rather than snaps and zippers
Other lifestyle changes can also be helpful. For example, when cooking, use a jar opener, lightweight pots and pans, and kitchen utensils with large handles. An occupational therapist can give you additional ideas on how to reduce strain on hand joints.
4. Consider topical pain medication
Over the counter gels, balms, creams, or patches are ideal for hand joints, which lie just below the skin. Regardless of how they are applied, most topical arthritis pain relievers fall into these categories:
- Salicylates, which have mild anti-inflammatory effects
- Counterirritants, which distract from pain
- Capsaicin products, which distract from pain and may have a role in blocking pain signals
- Cannabidiol (CBD) products
- Lidocaine products, which work as local anesthetics
While topical products are generally safe, their ingredients can enter the bloodstream and produce side effects or interact with other medications. It’s advisable to talk to a doctor or pharmacist before trying any new medication.
5. Try and anti-inflammatory diet
Advanced age is associated with both hand arthritis and an increase of inflammation in the body.1-3 Excess inflammation can contribute to arthritis and joint pain.1,4,5 It’s possible that reducing inflammation through diet may reduce arthritic pain.1
An anti-inflammatory diet includes fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, such as wheat, rice, barley, and quinoa. Foods that contribute to inflammation, such as processed, fried, and sugary foods, should be avoided.
Track your symptoms and continue to learn about what treatments work best for you. Above all, don’t let hand osteoarthritis prevent you from doing the activities you love. Thinking ahead and making some minor adjustments can make your life with hand osteoarthritis a little easier.