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.

See When Hand Pain Is Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis in the hand or wrist joints can make it hard to open jars or grip objects. See Recognizing Osteoarthritis in the Hand

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.

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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.

    See 9 Easy Ways to Apply Heat to an Arthritic Joint

  • 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.

    See 3 Types of Cold Packs for Arthritis

Try making your own ice pack at home. Watch: Video: How to Make a Gel Ice Pack

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.

See Topical Pain Relief for Arthritis

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

See An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Arthritis

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.

See Top 8 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should Eat

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Stay proactive

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.

Learn More:

An Essential Guide to Over-the-Counter Topical Pain Relievers

Treatments for Osteoarthritis in Hands

References

  • 1.Szarc vel Szic K, Declerck K, Vidaković M, Vanden Berghe W. From inflammaging to healthy aging by dietary lifestyle choices: is epigenetics the key to personalized nutrition?. Clin Epigenetics. 2015;7(1):33. Published 2015 Mar 25. doi: 10.1186/s13148-015-0068-2
  • 2.Prieto-Alhambra D, Judge A, Javaid MK, Cooper C, Diez-Perez A, Arden NK. Incidence and risk factors for clinically diagnosed knee, hip and hand osteoarthritis: influences of age, gender and osteoarthritis affecting other joints. Ann Rheum Dis. 2014;73(9):1659‐1664. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203355
  • 3.Marshall M, Watt FE, Vincent TL, Dziedzic K. Hand osteoarthritis: clinical phenotypes, molecular mechanisms and disease management. Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2018;14(11):641‐656. doi: 10.1038/s41584-018-0095-4
  • 4.Basu A , Schell J , Scofield RH . Dietary fruits and arthritis. Food Funct. 2018;9(1):70‐77. doi: 10.1039/c7fo01435j
  • 5.Dai Z, Niu J, Zhang Y, Jacques P, Felson DT. Dietary intake of fibre and risk of knee osteoarthritis in two US prospective cohorts [published correction appears in Ann Rheum Dis. 2017 Dec;76(12 ):2103]. Ann Rheum Dis. 2017;76(8):1411‐1419. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2016-210810
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