How Ring Splints Help Arthritis in Fingers

A Noninvasive Option to Help Manage Arthritis Symptoms

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Medications can help with the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in your hands. But many people still have residual symptoms, even with optimal drug treatment. 

If that applies to you, you might want to consider rings splints. These are a type of hand orthosis, devices used to bring alignment, stability, and support to the joints. Ring splints also may help reduce pain and discomfort in your fingers. 

Potential Benefits of Ring Splints for Arthritis

Verywell / Laura Porter

How Ring Splints Help Arthritis

By definition, people with arthritis have some inflammation of the joints. This can have a variety of causes, but the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Both conditions can cause the joints to be painful and stiff. In some cases, the joints might be swollen. Your hands may not be as strong and flexible as they used to be. You might have difficulty performing certain everyday activities, like opening a jar. 

Both conditions can also cause long-term changes to the joints of the hand, particularly if not well-treated. For example, untreated rheumatoid arthritis can lead to permanent deformities in which the bones are stuck in an abnormal position. 

Some types of deformities are known by specific names. For example, in the “swan neck” deformity, the middle joint of the finger (PIP joint) is hyperextended (bent toward the palm) and the joint closest to the fingertip (DIP joint) is permanently flexed, with the fingertip pointing to the palm.

Osteoarthritis can also lead to permanent changes in the shape of the hand. For example, one might develop a “boutonniere” deformity, in which the PIP joint is flexed and won’t straighten normally, while the DIP joint extends, resulting in the fingertip being bent back.

Arthritic joints are also more prone to injury than non-arthritic joints. For example, osteoarthritis joints have less cartilage, so force on the joint results in more wear and tear. Some arthritic joints can be unstable—too loose and wiggly. That very instability can make them even more unstable and even more prone to pain and injury over time. 

Potential Benefits of Ring Splints

Ring splints limit the motion in a certain joint, such as the DIP joint. They provide solidity to the joint, so that it does not have to move as much. 

Because of this, ring splints may be able to reduce potential symptoms. Some positive effects might include:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Decreasing joint inflammation
  • Decreasing joint stress
  • Promoting proper joint alignment
  • Minimizing joint deformities
  • Increasing joint stability
  • Improving joint function

Ring splints give you another avenue to use to manage your arthritis. Potentially, using ring splints with other conservative methods of management might help you avoid joint surgery, or at least delay it.

Who Can Benefit From Ring Splints?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many good scientific studies on the benefits of ring splints. While many people say that they find them helpful, there isn’t detailed information about their effectiveness.

It might be that ring splints are particularly good for people with certain types of arthritis or at specific joints. But we need to learn more.

For Osteoarthritis

Based on the available data, the American College of Rheumatology recommends hand orthoses such as ring splints for people with osteoarthritis of the hand.

They especially recommend hand orthoses if you have osteoarthritis of the CMC joint (the one at the base of your thumb). That’s because the most definitive information is available about the use of hand orthoses in that particular joint. 

However, because we don’t have enough solid research, the ACR doesn’t recommend a specific type of hand orthosis, such as ring splints, over other types.

For Other Types of Arthritis of the Hands

The American College of Rheumatology hasn’t made specific recommendations about hand orthoses in other arthritis conditions. That’s because there isn’t a lot of solid scientific data describing their positive effects. 

However, there is good reason to think hand orthoses like ring splints might be helpful in other medical conditions that cause arthritis in the hand. For example, this might include conditions such as: 

In any case, ring splints are a comparatively inexpensive, low-risk, and non-invasive option that might be worth trying. 

Could Splinting Potentially Harm Joints?

Specific hand exercises can also be an important part of improving your hand strength and managing your arthritis. It’s important to realize that such splints won’t limit the movement throughout your whole hand. You’ll only be limiting movement in certain joints (or maybe just one).

Your healthcare provider can give you information about what exercises you might perform and whether you should take off your ring splints while you do.

Some critics of ring splints have expressed concerns that movement is important for joint health. Because of this, they have argued that ring splints and other types of hand orthoses might not be helpful for people with arthritis.

However, others have described and studied their potential benefits. As more rigorous research is done, the picture will become clearer. 

Types of Ring Splints

Arthritis can cause many different anatomical problems based on the severity and specific joints affected. Because of this, several different types of ring splints are available. These provide support at different joints and treat different alignment issues. 

These have slightly different shapes, but they are designed to fit around your finger much like a regular ring. Many of them are named for the type of deformity they are made to address. Some of these include:

  • Swan neck splint
  • Boutonniere splint
  • Lateral support splint 
  • Realignment splint
  • Mallet finger splint
  • Thumb MCP splint
  • Buddy ring splint
  • DIP joint splint

Other types of hand orthoses may be of benefit to people with arthritis. For example, some evidence suggests that specific therapy gloves may reduce pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Materials Used

Historically, some of the finger orthoses on the market have been unattractive and difficult to put on. Not surprisingly, that made them unappealing for many people with arthritis. However, newer products, including some types of ring splints, have improved on both of these fronts.

Some ring splints are made of plastic or foam and aluminum. Such splints have the advantage of being less expensive, but they are a bit bulky.

Rings splints can also be made of precious metals such as silver and gold. These types of ring splints are often highly decorative and look more like jewelry than a medical device. Such ring splints are generally more durable and long-lasting compared to other types.

Picking the Right Ring Splint

You will need some help to pick out the right splint for you. In some cases, your healthcare provider may be able to make a specific recommendation about the right type of splint.

In other cases, you may need to get a referral to a specialist, such as an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, or a certified hand specialist. 

Your therapist will make a recommendation about the best type of splint given your particular disease, its severity, and the specific impact it has had on your hands. They may also talk to you about other possibilities in terms of hand orthoses for arthritis.

They should evaluate your hand function and talk to you about your specific complaints. They will also need to measure you to make sure you get a properly fitting ring splint, and they can answer your questions about ring splint use, such as whether you should wear the splints overnight.

You may want to start with a less expensive type of ring splint to see if you actually find it helpful. If splinting seems to help, it might make more sense to move to the more attractive and long-lasting silver ring splint.

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11 Sources
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