How to Get Rid of Arthritis in Fingers

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Arthritis of the fingers can be quite uncomfortable, causing symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. These symptoms make hand motions like grasping and pinching difficult, which restricts a person's ability to perform everyday tasks. Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are the two types of arthritis that most commonly affect the finger joints. Depending on which type of arthritis affects your finger joints, you may experience additional symptoms.

Thankfully, numerous remedies can help alleviate the discomfort from arthritis of the fingers, from hand exercises to help strengthen your fingers to over-the-counter and prescription pain medications and surgical treatments.

Senior woman rubbing knuckles

PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Symptoms

With arthritis, the fingers can become swollen due to the inflamed synovial membrane. The three most common sites where osteoarthritis happens in the hand include:

  • The trapeziometacarpal or basilar joint: The base of the thumb
  • The distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint: The joint closest to the fingertip
  • The proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint: The middle joint of a finger

Symptoms caused by arthritis of the fingers include:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Tenderness

OA sometimes causes Heberden’s nodes, bony nodules at the end joint of the finger, and Bouchard’s nodes, bony nodules at the middle joint of the finger.

People with RA can also experience warmth and redness in the hands in addition to the symptoms listed above. RA also often affects both hands and is symmetric in nature, while OA typically affects the dominant hand only and is asymmetric in regards to joints affected, even if it is in both hands. Those with RA tend to have prolonged periods of morning stiffness compared with people with OA.

Exercises

The muscles supporting the joint of your hand can be strengthened, and hand exercises can help with that. Exercise increases blood flow to cartilage, bringing it the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and prevent further breakdown. Also, the stronger your muscles are, the more weight they can handle. The bones in your joints carry less weight, as a result, and your damaged cartilage is better protected.

The following exercises are easy to perform and can help with your arthritis pain:

  • Make a fist: Start with your fingers straight and then slowly bend your hand into a fist. Make sure your thumb is on the outside of your hand. Don’t squeeze too tightly, then straighten again.
  • Finger bends: Stretch your hand in front of you, palm up. Then take each finger and move it very slowly to the center of your palm. Hold it, then straighten your hand.
  • Thumb bends: Bend your thumb toward your palm. Go as far as you can, hold, and then start again.
  • Make a C or an O: Move your fingers like you’re going to grab a little ball, and try to form a shape of a C or an O. Go as far as you can. Straighten your fingers and repeat.
  • Thumbs up: Have your hand in a loose fist with the pinky side of your hand on a table. Then point your thumb to make the thumbs up sign, put it down, and repeat.
  • Finger lifts: With your hand laying on a flat surface, lift each finger one by one. Repeat the sequence for both hands.
  • Wrist bends: Hold your left or right arm out with the palm facing down. Then take the other hand and gently press your whole hand down toward the floor.
  • Easy squeezes: Exercises such as squeezing a rubber ball, spreading the fingers widely, and making a fist have demonstrated efficacy in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Do these quick stretches throughout the day to build up the strength in your hands. Be mindful not to stretch your hand too far, and consult with your doctor before starting these exercises to make sure they are appropriate for you. A physical or occupational therapist can help you develop a tailored hand exercise plan that works best for you.

Home Remedies

Besides exercises, you can also use a variety of oral and topical over-the-counter (OTC) medications to cope with pain from arthritis of the fingers.

Oral Anti-Inflammatory

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are recommended to treat arthritis symptoms because of their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory qualities. NSAIDs can't slow the progression of arthritis, but it can help treat pain and inflammation. You can purchase a number of NSAIDs over the counter, but some are only available as prescriptions.

Most NSAIDs work by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2, enzymes that play a crucial role in the production of prostaglandins, which promote pain and inflammation. When fewer prostaglandins are present, less inflammation, pain, and swelling are experienced.

OTC NSAIDs commonly used to treat arthritis pain include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen sodium (Aleve)

Due to adverse events in patients taking COX-2 inhibitors, including adverse cardiovascular events and stroke, the only current FDA-approved selective COX-2 inhibitor on the market is celecoxib.

Supplements

Finger pain and general discomfort are due to inflammation, and research has identified EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as helpful in reducing inflammation levels. This, in turn, can reduce swelling and the discomfort associated with arthritis of the fingers. EPA and DHA are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are found in fish and aid the body in critical development and functional needs.

Another supplement that can potentially help with arthritis pain is ginger. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to assess the impact of supplementing ginger for RA symptoms, disease activity and gene expression were measured in 70 participants. The study found that ginger supplementation could improve RA symptoms.

Heat/Cold Treatment

Hot and cold therapy can also help to alleviate discomfort. Heat therapy can aid in relaxing discomfort from muscle tension and reduce pain sensitivity, whereas cold therapy can address inflammation and swelling.

For heat, soak in a warm bath, hot tub, or whirlpool for about 20 minutes or take a warm shower. Dress warmly afterwards to prolong the benefit. A heating pad is another good way to warm up an area. You can also buy moist heat pads, or heat a damp washcloth in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Test it to make sure it’s not too hot, then wrap it in a dry towel and apply it to the painful area.

For cold therapy, use an ice pack and apply for 20 minutes at a time. Keep several gel-filled cold packs in the freezer. Frozen peas or ice cubes in a bag can also work.

Splints

Splinting can help with both OA and RA pain in the fingers. It has been shown to reduce pain and improve joint mobility. Resting hand splints, in particular, have been identified as an option that offers significant pain relief for the elderly with OA of the thumb without any side effects.

Compression gloves may also assist in pain relief. In a systematic review, four trials were evaluated to determine the efficacy of wearing full-length finger compression gloves at night. The studies compared full-length finger compression gloves with placebo gloves that did not provide full-length compression. For patients with RA, swelling of the finger joints was significantly reduced with the use of the compression gloves. However, the study did not find a reduction in pain or stiffness, and produced inconclusive results regarding grip strength and dexterity.

Prescription Treatments

If the above remedies are insufficient to alleviate your pain, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you cope with your arthritis symptoms.

Medication

Corticosteroids, also referred to as steroids, such as prednisone and methylprednisolone are often prescribed to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. These medications can be administered orally, intravenously, or intramuscularly.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are the main prescription drugs for the treatment of RA. They work by blocking inflammation and thereby slowing disease progression. Methotrexate is a common DMARD used to treat RA. There are a few different types of DMARDs, and they all work differently:

  • Conventional DMARDs: Restricts the immune system
  • Targeted DMARDs: Blocks precise pathways inside immune cells
  • Biologics: Produced using living cells and works on individual immune proteins called cytokines 

DMARDs are used for chronic therapy, while corticosteroids are only used short-term for flares given their multiple associated side effects.

Cortisone Injections

Cortisone is a synthetic corticosteroid hormone that suppresses the immune system, which helps reduce inflammation and pain. Cortisone injections are used to relieve inflammation in both OA and RA. They are injected directly into an affected joint. These shots may work immediately or after a few days. The relief from these injections can last a few months to a year. It's important to remember that cortisone injections are used as part of a treatment plan.

Hand Therapy

A certified hand therapist (CHT) is an occupational therapist or a physical therapist who specializes in treating people with conditions that affect the hand, wrist, and other upper extremities. Examples of hand therapy are alphabet writing and grip strengthening. CHTs must have at least three years of experience, 4,000 hours of training, and recertify every five years by taking an exam.

The hand therapist effectively provides postoperative rehabilitation, nonoperative or conservative intervention, preventive care, and industrial ergonomic consultation. They can help people who have arthritis with:

  • Activity or exercise regimes custom designed to increase motion, dexterity, and strength, with the ultimate goal of improving function
  • Adaptive techniques and suggestions for adaptive/assistive devices and equipment
  • Joint protection and energy conservation training
  • Acute or chronic pain management

Surgery

As arthritis progresses, joints may become deformed. When medications and home remedies cannot provide adequate relief for the pain and discomfort of finger arthritis, your doctor may recommend surgical treatments.

Joint Fusion

The goal of a joint fusion, also called arthrodesis, is to fuse the joints together to facilitate bone growth. Finger joint fusion can help relieve the pain in the finger joints caused by arthritis. The surgeon makes a cut in the skin and removes the damaged joint from the finger. Then they insert a rod made of plastic or metal to hold the finger bones together. The ligament is wrapped around the new connection and sewn back up. Your hand may be put into a cast to keep it from moving while the finger heals. You may also get a sling to help your arm stay in place while the nerve block wears off.

Bone Spur Removal

Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, are small bony growths. If they cause significant discomfort in the fingers, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them. Your doctor will make one or more small cuts near the bone spur. Then they will use small tools to remove the piece of bone. Bone spur removal can help reduce pain.

Joint Replacement

The surface of the damaged joint in the finger is removed and replaced with an artificial implant during finger joint replacement surgery, also known as arthroplasty. During this procedure, an artificial implant is placed in the bone's hollow center. Joint replacement is not recommended for all patients.

One problem is that hinged finger implants don't fully replicate normal finger motion. Most are made from silicone rubber, which is flexible but breaks and slips easily. Some studies have found that some silicone implants fail within 10 years, making them a poor choice for younger patients.

A Word From Verywell 

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the hands. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. Not all treatments listed above will be right for everyone with finger arthritis. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the optimal treatment plan to reduce the symptoms associated with your condition. Although it can be frustrating when treatments don't work or aren't effective immediately, there are many options for you to choose from. Chances are one of them will bring you relief.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Managing arthritis pain with exercise. Updated October 2012.

  2. Creaky Joints. 8 daily arthritis hand exercises that can soothe your pain. Updated November 8, 2018.

  3. Hennig T, Hæhre L, Hornburg VT, et al. Effect of home-based hand exercises in women with hand osteoarthritis: a randomised controlled trialAnn Rheum Dis. 2015 Aug;74(8):1501-8. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204808

  4. Creaky Joints. 9 common questions about taking NSAIDs for arthritis. Updated February 13, 2019.

  5. Senftleber NK, Nielsen SM, Andersen JR, Bliddal H, Tarp S, Lauritzen L, Furst DE, Suarez-Almazor ME, Lyddiatt A, Christensen R. Marine oil supplements for arthritis pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Nutrients. 2017 Jan 6;9(1):42. doi: 10.3390/nu9010042

  6. Aryaeian N, Shahram F, Mahmoudi M, et al. The effect of ginger supplementation on some immunity and inflammation intermediate genes expression in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Gene. 2019;698:179-185. doi:10.1016/j.gene.2019.01.048

  7. Cleveland Clinic. What's better for soothing arthritis pain? Ice or heat? Updated January 28, 2019.

  8. Watt FE, Kennedy DL, Carlisle KE, et al. Night-time immobilization of the distal interphalangeal joint reduces pain and extension deformity in hand osteoarthritisRheumatology (Oxford). 2014 Jun;53(6):1142-9. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/ket455

  9. Berrut G. Arthrose de la base du pouce (rhizarthrose) du sujet âgé [Arthritis of the thumb (rhizarthrosis) in the elderly]. Geriatr Psychol Neuropsychiatr Vieil. 2014;12(4):361-370. doi:10.1684/pnv.2014.0511

  10. Hammond A, Jones V, Prior Y. The effects of compression gloves on hand symptoms and hand function in rheumatoid arthritis and hand osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Clin Rehabil. 2016;30(3):213-224. doi:10.1177/0269215515578296

  11. Arthritis Foundation. DMARDs.

  12. Masala S, Fiori R, Bartolucci DA, et al. Diagnostic and therapeutic joint injections. Semin Intervent Radiol. 2010;27(2):160-71. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1253514

  13. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Hand therapist: what is a CHT, OT or PT?

  14. American Society of Hand Therapists. What we do.

  15. Zhu AF, Rahgozar P, Chung KC. Advances in proximal interphalangeal joint arthroplastyHand Clinics. 2018;34(2):185-194. doi:10.1016/j.hcl.2017.12.008

  16. Arthritis Foundation. Hand surgery for arthritis.