If you are looking for how to get rid of arthritis in your fingers, you have several options. These won't cure the disease, but they can help you manage pain and other symptoms:
- Hand exercises
- Anti-inflammatory drugs or supplements
- Heat or cold application
- Wearing a splint
- Prescription medication or cortisone injections
- Physical therapy or surgery (more advanced cases)
These treatment options can help ease symptoms of the two most common types of arthritis affecting the finger joints—osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
This article walks you through the various treatment options for finger arthritis and how each can help.
Symptoms of Finger Arthritis
Exercises to Relieve Arthritis
The following exercises increase blood flow to the cartilage of the fingers, delivering the nutrients and oxygen it needs to stay healthy and prevent further breakdown. Consult your healthcare provider before starting these exercises to make sure they are appropriate for you.
Pain Relief Exercises
These eight exercises are focused on reducing pain and stiffness associated with both OA and RA:
- Finger bends: Stretch your hands in front of you, palms up. Take each finger and move it very slowly toward the center of your palm. Hold for several seconds, straighten, and repeat.
- Finger lifts: Place your palm on a flat surface, and lift each finger one by one with control. Repeat with both hands.
- Finger slides: Place your palm on a flat surface with your fingers outstretched. Slide your fingers toward your thumb, one at a time.
- "C" or an "O" grips: Move your fingers like you’re going to grab a small ball to form the letter “C” or “O.” Tighten the muscles and hold. Straighten your fingers and repeat.
- Fist squeezes: Hold your hand open, palm side up, and slowly ball your hand into a fist, keeping your thumb on the outside of your hand. Release and repeat.
- Thumb bends: Bend your thumb toward your palm as far as you can go. Hold and repeat.
- Thumbs up: Place your fist pinky-side-up on a table. Lift your thumb into a thumbs-up sign. Lower the thumb and repeat.
- Wrist bends: Hold your arm out, palm side down. Take the other hand and press the back of your hand down toward the floor, bending at the wrist. Hold and release.
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These hand exercises require props and help strengthen the muscles that support the joints of your fingers. Start with a few repetitions each day and gradually increase as you gain strength.
These five exercises work the finger muscles in different ways:
- Ball squeeze: Squeeze a rubber ball or firm sponge repeatedly with slow, controlled force.
- Clothespin squeeze: Pinch a clothespin open with your thumb and forefinger several times. Do the same with your other fingers.
- Rubber band stretch: Wrap a large elastic band around all of your fingers and thumbs. Open and close your finger repeatedly with controlled force.
- Towel grips: Place your palm flat on a thick towel. Gather the material between your fingers and thumb, grasping firmly. Release and repeat.
- Gripped wrist bends: Grip a water bottle with your palm facing down. Bend your wrist slowly up and down. Reverse the exercise with your palm up.
Why Exercise Is Needed for Arthritis
Besides exercise, there are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) and home remedies that help you cope with arthritis pain in your fingers.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) not only reduce pain but alleviate joint swelling, warmth, and redness. The OTC drugs can’t slow the progression of arthritis but can minimize the symptoms by blocking enzymes, called COX-1 and COX-2, that contribute to inflammation.
NSAIDs commonly used to treat arthritis pain include:
- Advil (ibuprofen)
- Aleve (naproxen)
Arthritis Medications: Strongest to Weakest
There are OTC supplements commonly marketed for the prevention or treatment of arthritis. Although the evidence supporting these products is generally weak, many people swear by them.
Popular options include:
- Chondroitin sulfate: A chemical naturally found in cartilage
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A type of omega-3 fatty acid thought to have anti-inflammatory effects
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): Another type of omega-3 fatty acid
- Fish oil: A natural oil rich in omega-3 fatty acid
- Ginger: A plant-based remedy thought to reduce inflammation
- Glucosamine: A naturally occurring component of cartilage
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe): A compound found in nearly every tissue and body fluid
20 Supplements and Vitamins for Arthritis
Heat and Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy can help relieve joint pain and discomfort. Heat therapy does so by increasing blood circulation and reducing joint stiffness. Cold therapy lowers inflammation and helps ease swelling and pain.
There are different ways to deliver heat and cold therapy to the hands and fingers:
- Heat therapy: Soak your hand in a tub of warm water for 20 minutes. You can also use an electric heating pad, hot water bottle, or damp washcloth warmed in the microwave for 20 seconds.
- Cold therapy: Apply an ice pack, cold gel pack, or frozen bag of peas to your fingers for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep a cloth barrier between the pack and your skin, and keep moving the pack to avoid frostbite.
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Splints and Compression
Finger splinting has been shown to reduce OA pain and improve joint mobility when symptoms are acute (sudden and severe). Splints are only intended when joint movement causes extreme pain. They are not intended for long-term use as they can increase joint stiffness and lead to a permanent loss of the range of motion of a joint.
Compression gloves can also help with both OA and RA. Studies have shown that compression helps ease pain and stiffness during acute exacerbations (flare-ups).
Both splints and compression gloves can be found in drugstores. Ask your pharmacist for the correct size as well as instructions on how to apply them.
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A few changes in habits and a few simple tools can help ease your arthritis symptoms and slow the progression of joint damage.
Here are some easy fixes that can help:
- If you have problems with grip strength, find kitchen utensils with the widest handles. Alternatively, you can wrap handles with tape to increase their diameter.
- Invest in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse if you spend considerable time in front of a computer.
- If you spend a lot of time on your cell phone, invest in earbuds, keeping your phone tucked in your pocket rather than gripped in your hand.
If conservative measures fail to provide relief, your healthcare provider can prescribe medications to help you better cope with your arthritis symptoms.
There are several prescription drugs used to treat OA and RA that may be delivered orally (by mouth), intravenously (into a vein), or intramuscularly (by injection into a muscle).
- Prescription NSAIDs: These are stronger NSAIDs like Celebrex (celecoxib) that reduce pain and swelling in people with moderate to severe OA.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These are the main prescription drugs for the treatment of RA. They work by blocking inflammation and slowing disease progression. Methotrexate is the most commonly prescribed DMARD, but others are available.
- Corticosteroids (steroids): These include prednisone and methylprednisolone prescribed for the treatment of acute episodes of RA inflammation. While DMARDs are used for ongoing treatment of RA, corticosteroids are used for flares.
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Cortisone is a synthetic form of the hormone cortisol that the body uses to reduce inflammation and pain at times of stress. Cortisone injections can be used for both OA and RA and are injected directly into an affected joint.
Cortisone shots may work immediately or take several days depending on your condition and its severity. The relief can last several months and up to a year in some cases.
A certified hand therapist (CHT) is a physical therapist or occupational therapist who specializes in disorders of the hands and wrists. They can help people recovering from hand surgery, improve grip and handwriting skills, and enhance safety and efficiency in people who perform manual work.
Some of the tools of a CHT include:
- Structured exercises to increase hand motion, dexterity, and strength
- Acute or chronic pain management skill
- Energy conservation training
- Adaptive devices to protect joints and improve daily functioning
Hand Physical Therapy for Arthritis
As arthritis progresses, joints may become deformed and less able to move effectively. When symptoms are severe and medications fail to provide relief, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.
- Joint fusion: Also known as arthrodesis, this is surgery used to prevent the movement of joints when joint pain becomes unbearable.
- Bone spur removal: This procedure, known as debridement, is used to remove the overgrowth bone, called osteophytes (bone spurs), that cause joint deformity and pain.
- Joint replacement: Also known as arthroplasty, this involves the insertion of an artificial metal or silicone joint inside the hollow center of adjacent finger bones.
Joint Replacement Surgery
Arthritis in the fingers caused by osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can benefit from hand exercises, over-the-counter painkillers, hot/cold therapy, and possibly supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Splinting and compression gloves may help with acute episodes.
For people with severe arthritis, treatment with a certified hand therapist (CHT) or surgery may be a more appropriate option.