How to Get Rid of Arthritis in the Fingers

Alleviate pain with these simple treatments

Arthritis in the fingers can be painful and debilitating. You have several options for how to get rid of arthritis in your fingers, including hand exercises and anti-inflammatory drugs or supplements. You can also try:

  • Heat or cold
  • Wearing a splint
  • For more advanced cases, physical therapy or surgery

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.

This article explains the symptoms of arthritis and explores the many remedies.

Coping With Pain From Arthritis in Your Fingers - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Symptoms of Hand Arthritis

Symptoms caused by arthritis of the fingers include:

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

In OA, joint pain is caused by the breakdown of cartilage, the tissue that cushions the joints. The three most common sites where osteoarthritis happens in the hand include:

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

OA sometimes also 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.

In RA, the fingers can become swollen due to inflammation of the synovial membrane, the soft tissue lining the joints. People with RA can also experience warmth and redness in the hands.

RA often affects both hands and is symmetric in nature (similar in size and shape). OA typically affects the dominant hand only and is asymmetric in regards to joints affected, even if it is in both hands.

People with RA tend to have prolonged periods of morning stiffness compared with people with OA.

Exercises to Relieve Arthritis

The following exercises increase blood flow to cartilage, bringing it the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and prevent further breakdown. Consult your healthcare provider before starting these exercises to make sure they’re appropriate for you.

If so, the exercises are easy to do and can ease your arthritis pain:

  • 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 and then straighten your hand.
  • Finger lifts: With your hand laying on a flat surface, lift each finger one by one. Repeat the sequence for 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.
  • Make a C or an O: Move your fingers like you’re going to grab a small ball and try to form the letter “C” or “O.” Go as far as you can. Straighten your fingers and repeat.
  • Make a fist: Start with your fingers straight and then slowly bend your hand into a fist. Keep your thumb on the outside of your hand. Don’t squeeze too tightly as you straighten your fingers again.
  • Thumb bends: Bend your thumb toward your palm. Go as far as you can, hold it, and then repeat.
  • Thumbs up: Form 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.
  • Wrist bends: Hold your left or right arm out with the palm facing down. Then take the other hand and gently press your hand down toward the floor.

The stronger your muscles are, the more weight they will be able to handle. Like other types of exercise, hand exercises won't "work" overnight. But they should with time and repetition.

Strengthen Your Fingers

The muscles supporting the joint of your hand can be strengthened with hand exercises. For these, you'll need a prop. Begin by doing a few repetitions a day, slowly and gently. Then try to increase the number gradually. Your fingers may feel achy afterwards, but the feeling should fade after a few hours:

  • Squeeze a rubber ball or firm sponge repeatedly (but remember: slowly and gently).
  • Get a clothespin clip and pinch it until it opens, using your thumb and forefinger. Then, one by one, use your other fingers to do the same.
  • Encircle your fingers with an elastic band. Open your fingers and then close them to a fist slowly and repeatedly.
  • Place your flat, outstretched hand on top of a towel or piece of fabric. Gather the material between your fingers and thumb, release it, and repeat the exercise.
  • Wrap your fingers around the midsection of a water bottle with your palm facing down. Bend your wrist up and then down. Next time, reverse the exercise with your palm facing up.

Listen to Your Body

Exercise is good for the body, but you have to pay attention to your body's response to it, too. If pain or discomfort after exercise lasts more than an hour or two, do fewer repetitions next time or take more breaks.

Home Remedies

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

Oral Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

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 they can help treat pain and inflammation. You can purchase a number of NSAIDs over the counter, but some are available only with a prescription.

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 will result.

Over-the-counter NSAIDs commonly used to treat arthritis pain include:

  • Aspirin
  • Advil, Motrin (ibuprofen
  • Aleve (naproxyn)

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. EPA and DHA are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are found in fish and are effective at reducing inflammation.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular among people with arthritis, perhaps because these supplements contain components of cartilage (which cushions the joints). Still, research on the effectiveness of these supplements is inconclusive.

Another supplement that can potentially help with arthritis pain is ginger—corroborated in one study of 70 participants with RA. The study found that ginger supplementation relieved RA symptoms.

It's always wise to check with your healthcare provider to ensure that a supplement is right for you, will not interact with anything else you may be taking, and that you take the proper dose.

Heat/Cold Treatment

Hot and cold therapy can also help to relieve discomfort. Heat therapy can aid in relaxing discomfort from muscle tension and reduce pain sensitivity whereas cold therapy can reduce 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 soothe an aching hand. You can also buy heat pads or heat a damp washcloth in the microwave for about 20 seconds. First, test it to make sure it isn’t 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 it for 20 minutes at a time. Keep several gel-filled cold packs in the freezer. Frozen peas or ice cubes in a bag also work.

So how do you know which treatment to use—hot or cold? The Arthritis Foundation says there are benefits to switching between the two, with cold being better for “acutely painful and swollen joints” or right after activity or exercise.

Just don’t be in too much of a hurry to switch between hot and cold treatments. Separate them by at least several hours.

Splints

Splinting can help with both OA and RA pain in the fingers. It has been shown to reduce pain and improve joint mobility.

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 compression gloves. However, the study did not find a reduction in pain or stiffness. And it produced inconclusive results regarding grip strength and dexterity.

Lifestyle Tips

People with arthritis learn that even the little things can trigger pain or discomfort. But it's also true that little things can provide relief, especially if they become habitual. Try these ideas to reduce arthritis pain in your fingers:

  • Find (and buy) kitchen utensils with the widest handles you can find. You will reduce the strain you place on your hand. Alternatively, wrap small handles with tape to increase their diameter.
  • Invest in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse if you spend considerable time each day in front of a computer.
  • Using smartphones has added enormous stress to the finger joints. Holding a phone (or tablet) in your palm is a habit worth developing to give yourself a break from this constant stress.
  • Kinetic tape, a splint, or compression gloves could help keep pain or discomfort at bay. Consult your healthcare provider for suggestions.
  • Prescription Treatments

    If the above remedies do not ease your pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to help you cope with your arthritis symptoms.

    Medication

    Corticosteroids (also known as steroids) such as prednisone and methylprednisolone are often prescribed to reduce inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis. These medications can be administered orally, intravenously, or intramuscularly (when a shot is given through a muscle).

    Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are the main prescription drugs for the treatment of RA. They work by blocking inflammation and 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 restrict the immune system in general
    • Targeted DMARDs block precise pathways inside immune cells
    • Biologics are produced using living cells and work on individual immune proteins, called cytokines 

    DMARDs are used for chronic therapy while corticosteroids are used for flares.

    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. Cortisone injections are used as part of a treatment plan, not as the only remedy.

    Hand Therapy

    A certified hand therapist (CHT) is an occupational therapist or 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 professional experience with 4,000 hours of training, and they have to 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 regimens designed to increase motion, dexterity, and strength, with the 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 healthcare provider 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 pin, plate, or screw to join the finger bones together.

    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 (an injection that blocks pain) wears off.

    Bone Spur Removal

    Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, are small, bony growths. If they cause significant discomfort in the fingers, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery to remove them. The surgeon will make one or more small cuts near the bone spur. Then they will use small tools to remove the pieces 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 a prosthetic joint made of silicone or metal during joint replacement surgery. During this procedure, also known as arthroplasty, 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 implants are made from silicone, which is flexible but breaks and slips easily. Some studies have found that nearly a third of silicone implants fail within 10 years, making them a poor choice for younger patients.

    Summary

    Arthritis in the fingers can range from being uncomfortable to extremely painful, causing symptoms including swelling and stiffness. These symptoms make even simple activities like grasping and pinching difficult to perform.

    There are many remedies for this condition, beginning with strengthening the hand with exercises, taking an oral anti-inflammatory or supplement, using a hot or cold treatment, and wearing a splint.

    For people with more advanced cases of arthritis, hand therapy sessions with a certified hand therapist or a surgical treatment might be appropriate.

    A Word From Verywell 

    Not all of the treatments here 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 good that one of them will eventually bring you relief.

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