5 Tips for Managing Arthritis in Your Hands
Sept. 28, 2017 at midnight
If you suffer from arthritis, you know how challenging it can be to keep up with the most basic, day-to-day activities, or even live without consistent pain. Arthritis in the hands can be especially destructive to fine motor skills. In fact, over two million Americans who have arthritis say that the condition prevents them from grasping, lifting, and carrying small objects. Moreover, repetitive tasks (like typing) can exacerbate arthritic pain and make detail work more difficult.
While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many ways to minimize pain and restore hand functionality. Here are several proven ways to control pain and keep your fingers and joints operational:
1. Exercise: Exercise is one of the least invasive ways to increase mobility. It strengthens muscles, avoids the side effects of common arthritis medications, and can even increase the production of synovial fluid, which reduces friction and absorbs pressure. Consistent movement can also help keep ligaments and tendons flexible. Some simple, worthwhile exercises include wrist stretches and finger lifts and bends, all of which bolster muscle strength and increase the range of motion.
2. Apply heat or cold: Applied heat helps boost circulation and eases fatigue. There are several different kinds of heat therapy that are effective, including moist heat wraps or warm paraffin baths. Cold baths, on the other hand, can alleviate sharp pains and decrease swelling. Ice packs, covered with a towel, can be successful in isolated pain relief, while an ice pack can reduce swelling across the hands and wrists. Experiment to determine which technique is the most effective and comfortable for you.
3. Supplements: There are dietary supplements available that reduce arthritic joint pain and general swelling. Capsaicin can reduce pain, while fish oils and curcumin (turmeric) have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, several studies have found that glucosamine supplements can reduce pain and increase mobility for people with arthritis in the hands. Just remember to discuss supplements with your doctor before using them in case they react with other medications you might be taking.
4. Pain medication: Topical and oral pain medications are one of the commonest ways to seek immediate relief from arthritic pain. Many medications are available over the counter and don’t have long-term side effects. Acetaminophen can block pain receptors, while ibuprofen can help to reduce swelling. Doctors can provide more powerful pain medications if necessary, including topical prescription creams such as NSAIDs or prescription lidocaine products. Doctors can also prescribe oral NSAIDs or opioids, but those have greater side effects and, with opioids, the chance for addiction.
5. Occupational therapy or surgery: Your doctor may suggest working with an occupational therapist, who can create a specific exercise plan that works for your activity and pain level. Therapists can also help patients learn to engage in regular domestic activities in ways that can protect joints and reduce further damage. If non-surgical interventions aren’t working as well as you and your doctor would like, your doctor may also suggest surgical interventions that will restore as much movement as possible and minimize pain as a longer term solution. Again, these are decisions you should discuss with your physician, who can help you find your best course of treatment for you.