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Arthritis is a relatively common condition that affects the joints. It can be incredibly painful and can make it difficult to use the affected joints. In the hand, there are several places that you might suffer with arthritis, the knuckles, base of the thumb, and the second and first finger joints are particularly susceptible.
Types of Arthritis that Can Affect the Hand
When we talk about arthritis, we are referring to a variety of sub-conditions. Each one will affect you in different ways. Here are the types of arthritis that can affect the hand.
According to experts, as many as 50% of all women will develop OA before the age of 85. This is the most common type of arthritis and it affects areas like the base of the thumb and the finger joints.
As a result of OA, patients may notice that they are unable to easily grip things and may find that their hands feel particularly stiff. This can hinder your day-to-day activities greatly.
If the condition is not treated or correctly managed, then there is a high risk that it will worsen over time.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA can affect the hands and can be very severe. It causes inflammation and in some cases can even result in disability. It is caused by an autoimmune condition but generally the symptoms come on gradually.
Fortunately, RA isn’t as common as OA but it can cause severe problems. Since the body attacks healthy tissues and the synovial fluid in the joints, these become stiff and difficult to use. Generally speaking, if you are affected by RA on one side of the body, the same will be mirrored on the other. For example, if your left thumb is affected, it’s highly likely that your right one will be too.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA)
Psoriatic arthritis tends to affect people who also suffer with a skin condition known as psoriasis. PsA affects the skin and can cause swelling as well as changes to the color of the affected skin. This type of arthritis is more commonly associated with RA and also causes the patient a great deal of pain as well as a loss of function.
If you have PsA, the condition may affect you in various ways. Some people only have a mild form while others can be seriously affected. It’s thought that a third of people with psoriasis will also develop PsA.
Symptoms of Hand Arthritis
- Reduced motion
- Grinding or cracking when moving joints
- Increased pain when using joints that subsides when resting
- Bony lumps on the tip or middle joint of the finger
- Joints may feel knobbly or hard
- Less stability in the joints
- Hands and fingers may change shape
- Soft joints
- Stiffness that is very obvious first thing in the morning
- Reduction in motion
- Swollen or thick tendons
- Loss of strength
- Feeling generally unwell. Many people report flu-like symptoms
- Long term physical damage to the hands including changes in shape
- Sausage-like swelling of the fingers
- Reduced movement
- Color of skin may change
Causes of Hand Arthritis
It used to be thought that osteoarthritis was caused by general wear and tear of the joints. But further research has revealed that this isn’t the case.
What actually happens is that the cartilage around the bones wears down and this results in the joints rubbing against one another. When this happens, you’ll start noticing the signs of OA.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition which means that your immune system will attack healthy tissues around the joints.
Some people may develop the condition as a result of hormones or genetics, but it is thought that some outside factors could boost your chances of developing it. Physical and emotional stress could both cause RA, as could things like smoking or another infection.
PsA is commonly seen in people who also suffer from psoriasis. This is a skin condition where the skin produces new cells too rapidly, leading to an overgrowth of skin. This can cause a variety of symptoms like redness, inflammation, pain, and itching.
Psoriatic arthritis happens when the body attacks healthy cells and tissues, leading to inflammation. Some people are genetically predisposed to this condition, although things like physical trauma can also bring it on.
Natural Remedies to Relieve Hand Arthritis
Arthritis can be a debilitating condition if it is left untreated. While there may not be a cure for the condition, there are things you can do to manage your symptoms, relieve pain and restore function.
1. Practice Hand Exercises on a Regular Basis
Research has shown that regularly exercising the hands can decrease symptoms associated with arthritis, such as pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Moreover, doing these hand exercises could improve your range of movement.
There are lots of different exercises that you could try to improve your arthritis symptoms. But whatever you choose, it is essential that you speak to a physical therapist or doctor before starting any new exercise program.
2. Use Hot & Cold Therapy
Some people will find that heat improves their symptoms, while others with arthritis may benefit from cold therapy. You can talk to your doctor or experiment with different treatments to see what works best for you.
It’s worth noting that applying heat or cold to the affected area is conditionally recommended among other treatments such as yoga and CBT for patients with OA. Moreover, arthritis experts insist that heat therapy is a viable method of treatment for relaxing stiff joints. This is because heat will calm stiff joints and therefore relieve pain. This type of therapy can also boost circulation. You might try taking a hot bath, applying a hot compress, or using an electric heating pad; there are lots of things you can do.
Similarly, cold therapy can also help with arthritis symptoms by reducing swelling and inflammation. For the best results, you should apply a cold compress for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Wear a Hand or Wrist Splint
You may find that certain tasks are more difficult when you have arthritis. But using a splint may increase your ability to perform these. One study showed that patients wearing a splint saw improvements in their pinch and grip abilities.
What’s more, wearing a wrist or hand splint should decrease any pain you are experiencing which will improve your quality of life.
4. Use Ergonomic Household Tools to Reduce Hand Strain
We are fortunate enough to live at a time when people don’t have to struggle as much when they’re living with a condition like arthritis. It’s imperative that you don’t put too much strain on your wrists and hands as this will increase pain.
But there are lots of tools you can use to help with jobs that require gripping, twisting, and other motions that may be uncomfortable.
If you’re a whizz in the kitchen, you shouldn’t let your arthritis stop you. You’ll find a whole host of kitchen aids such as adaptive scissors, jar openers, knives designed for people with arthritis, electric tin openers, and much more.
In other areas of your life, you may struggle, but things like hobbies should not be interrupted. If you’re an avid reader, you might consider buying a book holder to give your fingers a break.
For those that enjoy using a computer, there is voice software that allows you to control your device without the need for a keyboard and mouse. Alternatively, an ergonomic vertical mouse can make gripping easier as it places your hand in a more natural position which helps to reduce the amount of discomfort and pain.
Other day-to-day activities that may be hindered by arthritis can be made easier through the use of things such as seatbelt handles, reaching aids, key extenders, and dressing aids.
5. Use Pain Ointments
It is imperative that you speak to your doctor before using any type of pain ointment as there may be a medical reason you cannot use it.
However, if it is safe to do so, pain ointment can block pain, distract from pain and reduce inflammation, depending on the product you use.
There are lots of options, including CBD, capsaicin products, and salicylates. For those who require a little more intense treatment, lidocaine products have a mild anesthetic effect.
Capsaicin cream is derived from chili peppers, and this ingredient is known for its ability to reduce pain. The capsaicin works against something known as Substance P, which is responsible for sending signals between the brain and nerves. When these are blocked, you experience less pain.
The great thing about this cream is that it has shown no serious side effects, so is perfectly safe to use. Because of the ingredients, patients may find that their skin reddens and has a slight burning sensation when applying the cream, but this is harmless and will subside.
It has been demonstrated that treatment using arnica gel could reduce pain significantly in arthritis patients. In fact, one study of 174 people showed that these gels had a similar effect to using ibuprofen with no additional side effects.
The reason that a lot of people worry about using this gel is that when arnica is taken orally, it can cause a lot of adverse effects. As the study showed, using it topically does not cause any notable problems. This is a natural treatment that is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties. The gel is used for many things, as well as arthritis, including sports injuries and wounds.
6. Eat a Healthy Diet
There’s a lot to be said for what we put into our bodies, and if you’re looking to ease the symptoms of hand arthritis, then looking at your diet mightn’t be a bad idea.
Some foods have been proven to increase symptoms of arthritis and should be eliminated from your diet. These are typically foods that are high in sugar and fat, as both of these things can cause further inflammation.
Moreover, foods that are high in salts, such as shrimp, pizza, and processed meats could all increase your symptoms. One study showed that arthritis in mice was more severe when they were fed on a high salt diet.
It’s also a good idea to avoid things like alcohol, as some studies have shown that there may be a link between chronic drinking and arthritis. Although it’s important to note that there is a lot more research to do in this area.
There have been rumors that citrus fruits may increase pain and inflammation from arthritis. But this is not the case. In fact, eating citrus fruits may be beneficial since they actually contain anti-inflammatories and are high in vitamin C. It is worth noting that grapefruit may have negative interactions with some arthritis medication so check with your doctor beforehand.
7. Avoid Smoking
We’re always advised not to smoke, and with good reason. There are so many chemicals in cigarettes that can cause damage. While we often associate this damage with the heart and lungs, it can also wreak havoc for those with arthritis.
Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, smoking can affect your physical health, which means you will find it more difficult to remain active. As you will learn in the following point, staying active is one way to help manage and potentially prevent arthritis.
There has even been some evidence to suggest that passive smoking could also increase your chances of arthritis. So, if you find yourself exposed to smoke, it’s best to move away.
8. Stay Active
It is highly recommended to stay active in order to manage arthritis. Doing things such as yoga or tai chi could improve symptoms, particularly in patients that are overweight or obese.
When you exercise, your joints and muscles will become less stiff, and this can lead to decreased pain. Not only this, but it will strengthen the joints as well as have a general effect on your life, including things like weight loss, better sleep, and an improved quality of life.
Of course, it can be challenging to exercise when you are in pain, so it’s important not to overdo it. Chatting to your doctor is a good place to start as they will be able to offer you advice on the safest and most effective exercises for your personal needs.
Even the smallest of activities counts as exercise. Something as seemingly menial as mowing the lawn or walking the dog can be effective. With that said, if you are in intense pain then it’s worth taking a rest day as it is possible to overdo it.
9. Use Supplements
Supplements can be very useful in reducing inflammation. There are a wide range of anti-inflammatory supplements out there, but it’s essential to speak to your doctor before you start taking any of these. Some may not be suitable for your particular condition, and others may interact with existing medication.
Curcumin is a compound derived from turmeric. Since turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, it may be able to help reduce symptoms of arthritis. That said, there is insufficient evidence as to its effects on OA at this time.
However, there have been no alarming side effects when taking curcumin, so it’s worth trying to see if it eases your symptoms. What’s more, this natural substance has a whole host of other effects, including improved cardiovascular health and potential weight loss.
Fish oil is commonly used in the treatment of RA thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. However, it has also been shown that fish oil could take a while to have a profound effect which is why many physicians suggest using it alongside NSAIDs for the first three months.
Fish and krill oil are both high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which have a whole host of health benefits. It’s thought that krill oil may be slightly easier for humans to absorb, so it is often the preferred choice.
However, while fish oil has shown promising treatments for RA, it is not recommended for OA since no notable decreases in symptoms have been noted.
Ginger comes from the same family as turmeric, which we have already learned is suitable for treating arthritis. One of the main benefits of using ginger is for its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown a reduction in pain, particularly when using ginger alongside echinacea.
What’s great is that there has been a lot of research into the use of ginger for arthritis, and it seems to be able to reduce symptoms in both RA and OA. It works by reducing the effects of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation and pain and can be taken in capsule or oil form.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulphate
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate has been shown to reduce pain for patients with arthritis in the knee. There have been a few tests on people with hand arthritis that have shown similarly promising results.
These natural substances are found within human joints and aid in smooth movements. By replacing any lost Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, the joints may be less stiff and move more freely.
Useful Aids to Relieve Arthritic Hand Pain
Taking supplements and altering your lifestyle are just some of the ways you might combat the symptoms of arthritis. But there are other things you can do, including using some of these handy aids.
1. Paraffin Wax Bath
Paraffin wax is soft and melts at much lower temperatures than other waxes, so when it is melted, it’s perfectly safe to have on your skin. The idea behind this treatment is that submerging your hands in melted paraffin wax increases circulation, improves the fluidity of the joints, and relaxes muscles. All of these things combined could reduce the pain you experience from your condition.
There are paraffin wax systems that you can buy for at-home use rather than having to rely on attending a therapist’s office as would have been the case some years ago.
While paraffin wax may be a viable method of relieving arthritis, studies have shown that it can take three to four weeks for the treatment to be fully effective.
2. Hand Exercise Aids
As we discussed earlier, remaining active is essential in the treatment of arthritis of the hand. There are several exercise aids designed especially for the hands which you can include in your daily routine.
Hand Grip Strengthener
One of the things that is often affected when you have hand arthritis is your grip. Using a grip strengthener can help to bring some of this ability back. There are various types of grip strengtheners that allow you to work on the whole hand or individual fingers. These aids also come in varying degrees of difficulty so you can challenge yourself more as your grip improves.
Hand Therapy Ball
These simple aids usually come in a spherical or egg shape. They are designed to be squeezed, which can improve hand strength as well as reduce pain. Using these aids may also improve your grip strength, and they come in a range of resistances depending on your needs.
Hand putty is excellent if you are looking for an aid that is versatile. This putty can be used in several ways including to work out the fingers, improve grip, and improve pinching and twisting.
3. Compression Gloves
Compression gloves are a popular treatment for arthritis and it’s little wonder when you consider that they have been shown to reduce pain when doing activities. The idea is to wear the gloves while you sleep. Compression therapy has been shown to improve circulation which can have a direct positive impact on stiffness and joint pain.
What’s great is that this is a very affordable treatment, although it is important to point out that the therapy will only work if you find the right fit. You can also purchase fingerless gloves, so you can continue wearing them throughout the day, which is ideal if you’re looking to increase your range of movement when working and doing other things.
Wearing a splint will provide support for the hand, fingers and wrist. This improved stability should help to reduce pain and could even lessen inflammation. As a result of this, you may notice greater range of motion in the hand.
While you can purchase splints online or in stores, it is often a good idea to speak with an occupational therapist who will be able to advise you of the right product for your needs.
5. Heating Pads
Heat therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing pain. One of the ways that it does this is by relaxing the muscles and tendons around the joint. What’s more, heat can reduce the number of pain signals sent to the brain.
Using heating pads may also encourage the production of synovial fluid, which helps to keep the joints mobile.
Moist heat pads are ideal for people with PsA since they will not reduce hydration which could flare up psoriasis. However, something as simple as soaking the hands in warm water may also provide relief.
6. Hand Massager
Using a hand massager or going to a professional masseuse could not only relieve pain but may also aid with symptoms like anxiety. Moreover, it has been shown that patients with arthritis who have regular hand massages have seen a reduction of up to 57% in pain.
Personal massaging devices are lightweight and portable, so you can use them any time you feel intense pain. There are different types of massage on a single device including vibration and compression. Some products even have a heat setting which, as we have seen, can also help in reducing pain.
7. TENS Unit
A TENS unit delivers mild electrical currents through the skin and is designed to aid in pain relief. While it sounds a little intense, don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe! Using these devices is not painful, but you may feel a tingling sensation in the skin. Moreover, the intensity can be adjusted to suit your needs.
This type of therapy is ideal for temporary pain relief, and you’ll usually have sessions that last between 20 and 40 minutes each.
There are mixed results in studies concerning the effects of TENS on pain relief. Some have shown promising results whereas others show that, while there is some pain relief, it doesn’t seem to have an effect on grip pain. That said, if you find using a TENS machine to be therapeutic then it can’t do any harm.