How Hand Pain Is Treated

Hand pain can result from a variety of different conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, lupus, fibromyalgia, and injuries to the hand and finger joints, cartilage, or surrounding muscles. Hand pain can significantly impact your ability to perform motions like grasping, gripping, and pinching, making everyday tasks and activities of daily living challenging and painful. 

When to See a Doctor

If you have been experiencing significant hand pain that is interfering with your ability to perform everyday tasks, you should schedule an appointment with a doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience significant numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands. These are possible signs that you may have a serious medical condition.

There are many different treatment options for hand pain that include conservative measures like pain relievers and home remedies, specialty services such as physical therapy and acupuncture, and more invasive procedures like injections and surgery. A combination of different treatment approaches is usually the most effective for managing symptoms.

Man rubbing sore hand

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Home Remedies

Heat and Cold Therapy

Heat and cold therapy are both beneficial for relieving pain, but each is appropriate for different conditions. Heat therapy is best used for chronic issues to help loosen and relax tight muscles and stiff joints, especially with osteoarthritis.

Heat is also beneficial for relieving finger pain and stiffness with rheumatoid arthritis, except during periods of acute flare-ups (times of high disease activity). In fact, applying heat during rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups can increase inflammation and worsen symptoms.

Cold therapy helps decrease inflammation, especially after surgery, acute injuries, or in cases of tendonitis, which causes pain, swelling, and discomfort in tendons, the tissue attaching muscle to bone. Ice also helps to decrease the swelling and irritation caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve that runs through the narrow passageway at the base of the palm side of the hand.

Stretches

Stretching the finger flexor muscles that allow fingers to bend helps decrease muscle tightness. Stretching can also prevent the development of muscle contractures. Contractures are the permanent shortening and tightening of muscles that can happen when muscles lose elasticity.

Research has shown that stretching is especially useful and recommended to decrease inflammation of the flexor tendons that make up the carpal tunnel, which can become inflamed and cause symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The finger flexors can be stretched by using the opposite hand to bend your fingers backward, holding this position for 30–60 seconds and repeating it several times each day. You should feel a stretch in both the fingers and forearm. Specific nerve-gliding and tendon-gliding exercises, which improve movement of the nerves and tendons in this area, can also be performed to relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Splints

Hand splints and braces can be worn to support the wrist and finger joints and keep them from bending. Splints and braces allow the joints to rest and heal as inflammation subsides. Splinting can also keep your joints aligned to prevent further damage and joint irritation.

Research supports the use of hand splinting for arthritis pain and trigger finger (when a finger gets stuck in a bent position) at times when a patient chooses not to have corticosteroid injections or when using steroids is not medically advisable, such as in patients with blood sugar regulation problems.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Oral Medicines

Over-the-counter pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help reduce hand pain, swelling, and inflammation. These types of medications can treat a variety of hand and wrist sprains, nonspecific hand pain, and osteoarthritis of the hands and fingers.

Topical Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter creams and ointments, especially those containing capsaicin, an extract derived from chili peppers, can be applied topically to the hands and fingers. These medications relieve pain by decreasing the intensity of pain signals sent along nerve pathways.

Research supports the use of both topical pain relievers and capsaicin cream specifically for treating osteoarthritis of the hands to decrease pain and improve symptoms.

Prescription Medication

High-Dose NSAIDs

If symptoms are severe enough, your doctor may prescribe a higher dosage of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug than what's available over the counter to help decrease your hand pain and allow you to perform everyday activities with less discomfort.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids such as cortisone and prednisone may also be prescribed to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation within the hand and finger joints and the surrounding soft tissues. Corticosteroids are available in pill form or as a topical ointment that is absorbed through the skin.

A doctor may also inject the drug directly into the joints or tendons of your hands and fingers. Research recommends the use of corticosteroid injections specifically for the treatment of arthritis, trigger finger, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Corticosteroid injections are performed under local anesthesia, typically in a doctor's office, allowing you to be awake for the procedure with your hands and fingers numbed. A small amount of numbing agent is added to the syringe along with the corticosteroid. The injections can take effect soon after they are administered or up to two to three days later.

Corticosteroid injections can help relieve pain and reduce symptoms between six weeks and six months, although the injections are not effective for everyone. You will typically not be allowed to receive more than two or three injections per year.

Getting corticosteroid injections too often can cause weakening of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding the fingers. Corticosteroid injections may not be recommended for patients who have diabetes or other problems with blood sugar since corticosteroid use can raise blood sugar levels.

Pain Medicine

Opioid medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and tramadol may be prescribed by your doctor for acute issues (for instance, fractures, sprains, and surgery) to help relieve pain if over-the-counter or prescription NSAIDs do not relieve your hand pain.

Opioids are a group of strong pain-relieving medications that are not recommended for mild pain or minor injuries. Evidence recommends opioid usage for severe pain from large burns, severe fractures, or injuries with significant tissue damage only when pain cannot be controlled by other means.

DMARDs 

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are specifically prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis. DMARDs decrease inflammation throughout the body by altering the immune system response.

Because DMARDs lower your immune system response, you may be at an increased risk of infection while taking these medications. Be sure to talk with your doctor about all the risks and benefits of taking DMARD medication.

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy or occupational therapy can help relieve hand pain by improving joint mobility, range of motion, and hand strength to help with everyday tasks like grasping, gripping, and pinching. Other modalities like heat or cold therapy, paraffin wax application, or electrical stimulation can be applied to your hands and fingers to help decrease pain, stiffness, swelling, and inflammation.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the muscles of the hands to help relieve pressure points and reduce pain. Acupuncture is more effective for superficial conditions that affect the soft tissues, rather than conditions that are deep within the hand and finger joints and difficult to access. More research is needed to support the overall effectiveness of acupuncture in managing hand pain.

Supplements

Certain dietary supplements can help support healthy cartilage to protect the hand and finger joints from wear and tear. Glucosamine and chondroitin are compounds naturally found within cartilage cells. Taking them as supplements may help repair damaged cartilage in the joints and prevent enzymes from further breaking down cartilage.

Vitamin D3 is also important for maintaining good bone health and for improving immune system functioning to decrease inflammation throughout the body. This vitamin is plentiful in sunlight and in certain foods, such as eggs and fatty fish like salmon and tuna. It also comes in supplement form.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are concentrated oils derived from plants, fruits, and herbs that are thought to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Essential oils can be applied topically and massaged into the skin or used for aromatherapy by inhaling the scent from the oils. Essential oils are considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine, however, and more formal clinical research is needed to determine their overall effectiveness.

Surgery

For conditions that do not improve with any of the above treatment options, surgery may be required to manage symptoms of hand pain and dysfunction.

Common surgical procedures used to treat hand pain include:

  • Trigger finger surgery: Surgically releases a tightened finger tendon to restore full range of motion
  • Dupuytren’s contracture surgery: Surgically cuts and loosens contracted finger tendons in the palm of the hand to restore mobility of the fingers
  • Carpal tunnel surgery: Surgically cuts the transverse carpal ligament to decrease compression of the median nerve at the wrist
  • Joint replacement surgery (arthrodesis): Replaces a bone in the hand or fingers with an artificial replacement to relieve pain from osteoarthritis and improve finger mobility
  • Trapeziectomy: Surgically removes the trapezium bone of the thumb joint to relieve pain from severe thumb osteoarthritis

A Word From Verywell

Hand pain can become so severe it interferes with your day-to-day activities. Fortunately, there are remedies to help ease pain and correct the problems causing it. Conservative measures like pain medication and wearing a brace are often prescribed first to help manage hand pain.

Avoiding injuries and repetitive motions may help reduce pain. If your hand pain isn't relieved with home remedies, consult with your doctor, who can offer the best advice on next steps, including ordering imaging tests or blood work to help diagnose your condition. There are many treatments, including corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, and even surgery, that can take your pain away.

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Article Sources
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