10 Natural Remedies for Arthritis in Hands

Hand Exercises, Acupuncture, Hot and Cold Therapies, Splinting, and More

If you consistently experience pain in your hands, fingers, or wrists, you might wonder what type of arthritis might be causing your hand problems. The two most common forms of arthritis in the hands are osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory type of arthritis.

OA and RA have many symptoms in common. These include pain, stiffness, swelling, and tenderness in the hands and finger joints. If you are diagnosed with arthritis in your hands, a healthcare provider has probably prescribed medications to help you manage symptoms.

Pain management treatments for RA and OA include:

You can also manage arthritis in the hands with at-home therapies to ease symptoms. This article explains how you can use hand exercises, acupuncture, hot and cold therapies, splinting, and more to manage hand arthritis pain.

Hand exercises for arthritis

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Hand Exercises

The hands have many tiny bones, making them more vulnerable to swelling. The problem with pain and swelling in your hands is that you need to use your hands more than any other body part to complete various daily tasks.

Strengthening your hands with exercises might help with RA and OA in the following ways:

  • Improve joint flexibility
  • Improve range of motion
  • Reduce joint damage
  • Lessen pain

Hand exercises to try include:

  • Squeezing putty in your hands
  • Pinching putty with your fingers
  • Finger adduction (squeezes) with putty
  • Finger abduction (stretching) with a rubber band
  • Finger and thumb flexing and stretching

Reduce Pain

In a study reported in 2013 in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, Norwegian researchers instructed 80 women with hand OA to do hand exercises three times a day for three months. Activities included rolling fingers into a fist, squeezing a rubber ball, and spreading fingers as wide as possible.

Initially, many participants experienced significant hand pain when they started the hand exercises. However, hand and joint pain, grip, and function improved as the study progressed.

Increase Mobility

In another 2015 study reported in The Lancet, researchers followed 490 people treating their hand RA with medication. Half of the study participants continued their regular treatment, while the other half added specific hand stretching and strengthening exercises to their treatment plans.

After a year, the hand exercises group had more significant improvements in hand flexibility, dexterity, and muscle strength.

While hand exercises can be helpful, you should talk to a healthcare provider or a physical therapist before you try them. They can help plan an exercise routine that is safe and can best help you. If you experience significant pain while doing hand exercises, stop. Ask your healthcare provider or therapist how much pain is normal and discuss other activities that may not hurt as much.

Recap

For people with hand arthritis, hand exercises can reduce pain, increase mobility, and strengthen joints. However, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before beginning hand exercises to ensure it is safe in your situation.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that uses thin needles inserted into various body parts. The needles stimulate specific points in the body to correct imbalances and relieve pain.

Managing Hand and Wrist Pain

Research shows it is effective for providing symptom relief for people with carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand because of a squeezed nerve in the wrist.

A study reported in 2017 in the journal Brain found people with carpal tunnel can experience improvements in pain and numbness using acupuncture. In addition, researchers suggested acupuncture—when done correctly—can also offer long-term benefits and continued improvements in hand function.

These findings could hold promise for hand pain associated with arthritis.

Managing General RA Pain

While acupuncture for RA hand pain and symptoms hasn’t been examined, studies have explored using acupuncture to manage general RA pain. They demonstrate that acupuncture can curb pain because it boosts endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers.

For example, a 2018 systematic review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found acupuncture alone or with other therapies can help manage pain and function and improve quality of life in people with RA without side effects.

Recap

Research supports using acupuncture to treat hand and wrist pain and all-over RA pain.

Hot and Cold Therapy

A cheap, easy, and effective treatment for arthritis hand pain is hot and cold therapy. Heat therapy can relax muscles and lubricate joints. On the other hand, cold therapy reduces inflammation, swelling, and pain from arthritis.

Hot Therapy

Some ways to utilize heat therapy for managing hand pain include:

  • Taking a warm shower
  • Soaking hands in warm water
  • Applying warm compresses or heating pads

In addition, you could try a paraffin wax bath, which involves using a paraffin wax machine and paraffin wax, a type of wax used for candles. Treatment consists of warming the wax and completely covering the hands with the warmed wax to relieve hand pain and soreness.

Cold Therapy

Cold packs can numb sore hands and reduce inflammation and swelling. You should apply cold therapy for 20 minutes at a time. Afterward, remove the ice treatment when the skin feels numb to the touch. To protect your skin, wrap the cold pack in a thin towel.

Ways to utilize cold therapy include:

  • Using a bag of frozen vegetables
  • Freezing a towel and using it on the achy area
  • Filling a sock with rice and freezing it
  • Massaging your hands with a frozen bottle of water
  • A lunchbox ice pack
  • An instant ice pack that cracks and becomes cold quickly

With alternating heat and cold therapy, some people get the most arthritis pain relief. You can experiment with both to see what gives you the best pain and symptom in your hands and fingers.

Splinting

You can wear splints to reduce arthritis pain. When you experience pain but must still manage tasks with your hands, splints can be helpful because they immobilize the wrist and hands.

Reduces Pain

A 2014 study reported in the journal Rheumatology found benefits of using splints for joint pain. Specifically, it found that when participants used a splint on the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint at night, it was a safe and simple way to reduce pain and improve joint mobility.

What Is the DIP Joint?

The DIP joint is the first knuckle located at the top of the finger. Experiencing DIP pain is a sign of arthritis, including OA or RA.

Increases Function

Splinting has also helped manage hand and wrist function in people with RA. A study reported in 2018 in the journal Reumatologia found hand function in women with RA could cause problems with grip and manual dexterity. The researchers concluded that wrist stabilization could improve hand function.

Compression Gloves

Compression gloves might be an alternative to splinting. People typically wear compression gloves at night. Researchers think these tight-fitting and flexible gloves might improve pain and stiffness in the hands and potentially improve hand function. However, while these gloves are safe and commonly used, there is little research on how helpful they might be.

Recap

Splints or compression gloves immobilize the wrist and hands. Evidence supports using these to manage pain and restore hand function.

Capsaicin Creams

Capsaicin is the component in chili peppers that gives them their heat. Capsaicin blocks pain signals when used in creams, gels, and patches. Capsaicin creams generally cause few systemic side effects. However, topical use sometimes causes localized redness, itching, and pain.

In a 2011 study in the journal Rheumatology, researchers reviewed the literature on capsaicin gel for hand and knee OA. In five of the trials reviewed, the report’s authors found capsaicin gel was significantly effective for pain relief. For example, in one of the studies, where participants used capsaicin gel over 12 weeks, there was a 50% pain reduction.

Before using capsaicin products on your hands, try a small amount in one skin area to make sure you are not allergic.

Fish Oil

RA can cause hand and finger pain, swelling, and stiffness. When hands and fingers become inflamed, joints tend to be warm and tender. Because RA is a symmetric condition, both hands are often affected.  

Research on fish oil, as a complementary supplement for RA, finds the two active ingredients in fish, EPA and DHA, can help reduce inflammation.

One study reported in 2016 in the Global Journal of Health Science found that people who took daily fish oil supplements had reduced RA pain. The study’s authors further noted taking fish oil supplements may reduce the need for analgesic pain relievers.  

The 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guidelines do not recommend treating OA with fish oil. That is because most studies have not found fish oil to be effective for treating OA.

SAM-e

When OA affects the hands, it often causes symptoms in several different locations, including:

  • The base of the thumb
  • The fingertips
  • The middle knuckles of the fingers

OA will cause the cartilage between these joints to wear down so that the bones rub together without a cushion. The rubbing eventually leads to mild inflammation, stiffness, and pain.

S-adenosyl-methionine (SAM-e) is a natural compound in the body. It provides anti-inflammatory and pain relief effects. It also protects cartilage and reduces cartilage damage. 

But clinical studies on treating OA with SAM-e supplements are mixed. For example, some studies used injected SAM-e, which may not have the same effects as an ingested supplement.

Most studies have compared SAM-e to NSAIDs for improving pain and joint function. These studies have found that SAM-e provides similar relief but fewer side effects. However, when compared to a placebo, results did not consistently show SAM-e as beneficial. In addition, SAM-e has not been studied for managing RA.

Recap

SAM-e is a natural compound in the body that helps regulate pain and inflammation and protect cartilage. Some studies have found that SAM-e supplements may help people with joint pain; however, research on the benefits is mixed.

Meditation for Pain Management

Meditation is an ancient mind and body practice in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. It puts your focus and attention on the current moment so life's distractions do not get in your way.

Meditation has many benefits, including:

  • Increases calmness and relaxation
  • Improves mental health
  • Helps people cope with illness
  • Enhances overall well-being

In addition, research shows meditation can help manage chronic pain associated with conditions like OA and RA.

In a 2016 review of literature, researchers evaluated the use of mindfulness-based mediation's effects on pain management. They found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain for people with chronic conditions. However, researchers found that short-term (less than one week) was more effective at pain control than longer-term meditation.

Plant-based Diet

When you have arthritis, your diet can play a role in the symptoms you experience. A plant-based diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant-based foods. Some people might also eat meat and dairy along with plant-based foods.

This diet can provide nutrients that ease inflammation, pain, and swelling associated with arthritis.

A 2015 study reported in the journal Arthritis found eating a plant-based diet could significantly improve function in people with OA. However, the research on a plant-based diet for RA is mixed.

Some studies find a plant-based diet might help reduce RA symptoms. However, not all studies show significant connections between this type of diet and improved pain and function.

Regardless, it may be worth trying as part of your treatment plan to manage RA and reduce hand and finger joint symptoms.

Herbal Supplements

Several herbal supplements may help manage OA and RA pain. These herbs include curcumin, ginger, and Boswellia.

Curcumin

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a spice used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, and it has been touted for reducing pain and swelling in people with RA.

According to a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis of eight studies, just 500 milligrams of turmeric twice a day could reduce joint pain and stiffness in both OA and RA. The easiest way to get curcumin in your diet is to take it as a supplement.

Ginger

Ginger may reduce inflammation in people with RA and OA. In addition, a 2014 review found the ingredients in ginger can manage RA pain and reduce the potential for joint damage.

To increase ginger in your diet, you can make it as a tea or add ginger to baked goods or prepared meals. Ginger supplements are also an option, but you should check with a healthcare provider about correct dosing and safety.

Boswellia

Boswellia, also known as frankincense, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis found that Boswellia may be a safe and effective treatment for OA when used for four weeks. Boswellia is safe in small doses and available as a tablet or a topical cream.

Supplement Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve herbal supplements. Unfortunately, that means their effectiveness and safety have not been studied or confirmed by the FDA.

You should always talk to a healthcare provider about whether an herbal supplement is helpful and safe to use with your current arthritis treatment plan.

Make sure you purchase herbal supplements from reputable sources. A healthcare provider or pharmacist can offer recommendations about high-quality supplements.

Recap

Curcumin, ginger, and Boswellia may be helpful herbs for managing OA or RA hand symptoms. However, herbs may carry risks, and the FDA does not regulate them. So be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before taking to ensure they are safe for you.

Summary

Some natural and at-home remedies may help manage your hand arthritis. Hand exercises, acupuncture, hot-cold therapy, splinting, meditation, and some supplements hold promise for non-pharmaceutical pain-relief options. Talk to a doctor about which options may work well alongside standard medical care.

A Word From Verywell

Hand pain, wrist pain, and problems with your finger joints are symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, especially if they get progressively worse. Talk to your healthcare provider as early as possible to determine the cause of hand pain so you can treat it as soon as possible.

Hand arthritis—regardless of the arthritic cause—is best managed with a combination of therapies. These include prescription and OTC medications, natural remedies, and lifestyle approaches.

It is essential to speak to your healthcare provider before trying any new natural remedies for managing arthritis in your hands. You should also contact a healthcare provider whenever swelling, pain, and other arthritis symptoms worsen.

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23 Sources
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