Your hands are the main way you interact with the environment. Finger joint pain makes daily tasks difficult, impacting your quality of life. Arthritis often causes joint damage and pain in the fingers. Although this condition frequently gets worse over time, further joint damage can be slowed or temporarily stopped with activity modification and exercise.
Two main types of arthritis affect the fingers: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Each condition damages the joints, but the underlying causes are different. Osteoarthritis occurs as the cartilage, or padding between the bones in a joint, wears down. The bones eventually rub together, causing severe pain and decreased movement. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissues. The resulting inflammation of affected joint causes pain and destroys tissues. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can occur in nearly any joint in the body, but both conditions often affect the fingers.
Joint protection techniques may help reduce arthritis pain and inflammation during daily activities. Large-handled tools and kitchen utensils reduce pressure on the finger joints. Foam can be wrapped around a toothbrush or pen to increase its diameter. Adaptive items, such as jar-opening tools and scissors that open automatically, reduce finger pain and decrease stress on the joints. Door handle attachments can be placed over doorknobs so you can open them with your forearm rather than using your fingers to grip and turn the knob. Grasping objects with bent fingers can increase joint inflammation, but holding an object, such as a book, with open palms transfers the effort to wrist and elbow muscles.
Range of motion exercises and gentle strengthening are temporarily used to prevent further damage to arthritic finger joints. Finger exercises maintain joint flexibility and decrease stiffness. Thumb exercises include bending down to the bottom of the pinkie finger and touching the thumb to the tip of each finger. Flexibility of the finger joints is maintained by making a full fist, then straightening the fingers completely. Finger walking exercises -- moving each finger to the left, one at a time then back to the right -- reduce stiffness in the large knuckles at the base of the fingers. Grip strength is improved by gently squeezing therapy putty or a sponge for several minutes at a time. All exercises should be pain-free to avoid further joint damage.
Activity Modification and Rest
Activity modification and rest are important principles for temporarily stopping further joint damage from arthritis. Large joints should be used whenever possible to reduce pressure on the smaller joints in the fingers. For example, wrapping 2 arms around a grocery bag and carrying it close to the body is better than gripping a bag by the handles. Rather than pushing up from the arms of a chair to stand up, scoot to the edge of the chair and lean forward to assist your legs as you stand. Break up daily tasks, such as gardening, cleaning or laundry, to avoid prolonged gripping or pinching, or take a break and rest every 15 minutes if you can't avoid these activities.
- BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: Self Management, Joint Protection and Exercises in Hand Osteoarthritis: A Randomised Controlled Trial With Cost Effectiveness Analyses
- Journal of Hand Surgery (American Volume): Current Concepts in the Management of the Rheumatoid Hand
- The Open Orthopaedics Journal: The Future of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hand Surgery -- Combining Evolutionary Pharmacology and Surgical Technique
- Arthritis Research & Therapy: Effects of Rehabilitative Interventions on Pain, Function and Physical Impairments in People With Hand Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review
- MayoClinic.com: Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain: Tips for Protecting Your Joints
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show: Joint Protection for People With Hand Arthritis
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show: Hand Exercises for People With Arthritis
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