Managing Symptoms of Arthritis in Your Hands

Arthritis is generally terms described as inflammation in the joints. A joint is a place where two bones of your body meet. The bones and joints in your body are protected by a flexible tissue known as cartilage. It acts as a shock absorber, reduces bones and joints' friction, and prevents them from rubbing against each other. Sometimes this cartilage breaks down, exposing the ends of your bones to rub each other and wear away. Since your hands have many joints, arthritis in the hands, aka Osteoarthritis, is quite common.

Osteoarthritis can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and even hand deformity. Since it is a progressive disease, your conditions may start to get worse as time passes by.

Hand Osteoarthritis Symptoms

You can classify symptoms of Osteoarthritis or arthritis of the hand into two sections: Early and chronic symptoms.

Early Symptoms Include

  • Pain, swollen and stiffness in your hands and joints

  • Dull or burning sensation in the joints for hours or days

Chronic Symptoms Include

  • Symptoms come more often 

  • Change in the intensity of pain, from dull to sharp pain

  • Tissue in the surrounding areas turns red or tender to touch

  • Feeling of cracking, grinding, grating, or clicking while bending fingers

  • Cannot open or close fingers completely

  • Joints in the finger appear large and deformed or bent, disabling you from doing everyday tasks easily

What happens during arthritis of the hands (Osteoarthritis)?

Osteoarthritis is a complex process that affects the bone, cartilage, connective tissues, and soft tissues of your joints. As the cartilage starts to wear and tear, it causes swelling and irritation on the synovial lining, acting as a lubricant for your joints. 

Osteoarthritis or arthritis in the hands affects the joints of your fingers or hands, causing pain, weakness, joint deformity, and weakness in the affected area. It often gets worse as you use your hands to do repetitive tasks, such as typing on the keyboard, gripping the handle of the mop, etc. it is often associated with weakness in your hands, making it harder for you to do even small tasks such as opening a can. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. However, you can manage mild to moderate symptoms using medication and non-medication applications. 

Oral pain-relieving medications are often administered to manage the pain associated with the disease. Your doctor may prescribe steroid injections in your joints or splints to give your hands more support. 

Managing Symptoms of Arthritis of the Hands 

You can also try home treatments such as doing hand exercises, integrating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, applying cold and heat therapy, etc. If the condition has progressed to severe, and none of the non-invasive treatments works, you can always go for surgery.

Practice Hand Exercises

You can increase flexibility, strength, and range of motion in your hands by doing some exercises.

Exercise 1 − Hold your hands open in a natural position and move your thumb toward the base of your pinky finger as far as possible. Repeat the movement on each hand several times.

Exercise 2 − Hold your hands in the air, and keep your fingers close to each other. Try to make a fist by folding your fingers in the middle joints. Bring your fingers to their normal position and repeat. 

Exercise 3 − Hold your hands in the air, keeping your gingers upright and close. Make a "C" shape using your thumb and fingers. Come back to the natural position and repeat using both hands.

Use Heat/cold Therapy

Sometimes applying heat, cold, or a combination of both on the joints can help manage the pain and discomfort.

The heat helps in relaxing soft tissues by increasing the production of joint fluid, which helps in relieving pain and stiffness. You can apply heat using a warm water bottle, moist heating pads, electric heating pads, or a heat wrap.

Cold therapy can take down the inflammation and swell in the joints. You can apply a cold pack to the affected area for a couple of minutes. Make sure to wrap the cold pack with a towel to avoid ice burn.

Make sure to approach a certified physical therapist to ensure which therapy is good for you.

Change Your Clothing Style

You can manage the day-to-day pain and discomfort of Osteoarthritis just by replacing your outfits. 

Ditch those shoelaces and buy shoes with Velcro or something you can actually slip into

Buy pullover shirts rather than buttoned ones

Purchase pants with elastic waistbands and something with snaps or zippers

You can also incorporate lifestyle changes such as buying a jar opener, lightweight utensils, plates, and pans to reduce strain and inflammation on hand joints.

Use Topical Pain Medication

You will find ample OTC gels, creams, and balms for joint pains. Types of topical pain medications include −

  • Salicylates to treat mild inflammations

  • Counterirritants 

  • Capsaicin products to block pain signals

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) products

  • Lidocaine products 

Although topical medications are safe, their ingredients can still enter your bloodstream and cause side effects or interactions with other medicines. Always consult your doctor before using a new drug if you can use topical meds with them.

Follow an Anti-inflammatory Diet

Foods laden with saturated fats, processed and fried foods, sugary drinks, etc., can heavily trigger an inflammatory response in your body. To manage your inflammation, you need to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. 

Medical Treatments for Arthritis in Hand or Osteoarthritis

Your doctor will suggest treatments based on factors like type and stage of arthritis, the number of joints affected, your age, your hand (if it's the dominant hand), and more.

The goal of the treatment is to −

  • Decrease the stiffness and pain in the joints 

  • Improves mobility and function

  • Slow down the progression

  • Improve the quality of life

Treatment Options Include

Braces and Splits

They support and protect the affected area, reduce deformity, & strain, and promote joint stability and alignment. Your healthcare provider will decide on different bracing & splinting options, including how, when, and how long to wear them. This is because wearing them for a long time can weaken your muscles.


While there are numerous drugs to treat arthritis, only a few are beneficial in controlling Osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, no approved medication is available to slow down the progression of the disease. The only option is to try acetaminophen and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Acetaminophen helps in reducing pain.

NSAIDs help in reducing pain and swelling in the affected joints. Some example of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and celecoxib. You can also try the topical medications mentioned above. 

Steroid Injections

Your doctor may prescribe steroid injections if the medications fail to reduce or manage the inflammation. The doctor injects the drug directly into the affected area during this process. However, these injections are only administered a few times, as steroids can weaken your tendons and ligaments.


Surgery is your last resort when all nonsurgical options fail to work as intended, leading to massive wear and tear in the cartilage.

Joint Fusion or Arthrodesis − Your doctor attaches a plate and screws around the joints to keep the bones together. It may limit your flexibility, but you will have more stability in gripping with no debilitating pain.

Joint Replacement or Arthroplasty − In this process, surgeons replace your damaged joints with artificial implants like silicone, ceramic, plastic, or metals. It will help you with the pain and stability, but the movement of fingers will not appear as naturally as normal movements.

Tendon Transfer − Tendons are fibrous connective tissues that connect your bones to muscles. Inflammation in the cartilage can cause a tendon rupture. Surgeons can restore your hand function by replacing damaged tendons by replacing them with healthy sone.

Updated on: 01-Feb-2023


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