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3 Proven Tools to Relieve Hand Arthritis Pain

By Performance Health | November 21, 2017 Chronic Pain
3 Proven Tools to Relieve Hand Arthritis Pain

Keep these tips & products handy for quick and easy relief

It’s easy to take your hands for granted—until pain from arthritis slows you down. When the stiffness, swelling and pain sets in, you quickly realize how things that seemed so simple can be frustrating and painful. From squeezing a shampoo bottle and using a can opener to gardening and holding a loved one's hand, it can all hurt.

But what is hand arthritis and why does it affect certain people?

The Breakdown

Hand arthritis in the simplest terms is when you experience pain and inflammation in the joints of your hands. Arthritis itself isn’t actually one single condition—it’s more like a blanket term that describes many types of joint pain or joint disease.

Arthritis is usually caused by one of two things: joint disease or joint trauma.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis caused by disease. Osteoarthritis is the most common, resulting from wear and tear of the joints, and over-use. It usually affects older people, but can affect younger adults as well. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is a chronic disease that causes the lining of joints to swell. It can affect many places in your body and usually starts in the hands and feet. It can also affect any age group, from children to seniors.

Arthritis caused by trauma usually involves an injury to a joint. Fractures and dislocations are among the most common types of injuries that cause it since they cause damage to the joints. And injured joints (even with the right treatments) can be more likely to suffer from arthritis as time goes on.

The Symptoms

Hand arthritis usually involves the following symptoms. You may have one, a few or all of them.

    • Pain—Usually the first symptom, the dull or burning sensation usually shows up after extended use.
    • Swelling—The swelling of your joints is a response to the hand arthritis—it shows up because of inflammatory chemicals present in the area. .
    • Changes to the joints—Sometimes, joints surrounding those with arthritis can become more mobile than normal (to compensate for the lack of movement in your arthritic joint).
    • Heat—Often, joints with arthritis feel warm to the touch, as part of your body’s inflammatory responses.
    • Grinding feeling—Depending on the type of hand arthritis, there may be a grinding or grating feeling as you move. That’s sometimes caused by damaged cartilage rubbing together.
    • Cysts—Small cysts can develop if arthritis affects the joints at the ends of your fingers. They may even cause ridging or dents in the nails of your affected finger(s).

Finding Relief

Seeing your doctor, a physical/occupational therapist and/or another healthcare professional is the first step to find ways to relieve hand arthritis pain. Try to find a professional who is certified as a hand therapist. Because hand arthritis can cover a variety of conditions, you want to make sure you have all the information regarding your specific situation before you start any type of treatment.

Once you have an understanding of what you’re working with, you can start the process of finding relief options that work for you. With the combination of professional care and a few small, cost-effective tools and basic exercises you can do anywhere, anytime, you can keep your hands healthy with ease. Here are three safe pain-relief tools proven to help with hand arthritis.

1. Hand ExercisersTheraBand Hand Exerciser.png

A great alternative to messy hand putty, these squeezable non-latex balls help build hand, forearm and finger strength as well as flexibility, grip and range of motion. The TheraBand® Hand Exercisers come in two sizes so you can pick the one that comfortably fits your hand. And because they are available in five different resistance levels, you can start at the right level and progress through the levels as you develop strength.

Using hand exercisers regularly has been shown to help improve function and even quality of life. In a 2015 study, researchers split 490 adults who had hand rheumatoid arthritis into two groups: Both received their usual drug regimen, but one also followed a hand exercise program. The program included seven mobility and four strength exercises, some of which called for the Hand Exerciser. Participants performed the exercises daily for 10 to 15 minutes, progressing to firmer Hand Exercisers over 12 weeks.

At the end of the study, researchers found that compared to usual care, exercise doubled the treatment effect of overall hand function. The exercise program also improved participants' daily activities, work, satisfaction and confidence to manage their symptoms.

Use the Hand Exerciser diagram below for at-home exercises to relieve pain and strengthen your hands.

TheraBand Hand Exercises.png

2. Massage TherapyBon Vital Massage Therapy.jpg

After the exercises, if your hands are sore, it's a great time for a massage. Not only does it feel good, but it also helps relieve pain.

“Massage stimulates pressure receptors in the skin. This slows down the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, and substance P, which causes pain,” explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. “It also increases serotonin, the body's anti-pain chemical.”

But not just any massage will help your hand arthritis symptoms subside. You want a massage that uses moderate pressure, Dr. Field says, noting this will lead to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and overall relaxed state, in addition to lowering stress and pain hormones.

Sometimes, finding the time to go to a massage therapist can be difficult. But don’t worry, you can give yourself a massage in the meantime! In a study published in 2007, Field and other researchers had 11 adults with hand and wrist arthritis receive massage therapy once a week for four weeks and also perform self-massage daily at home. Another 11 adults with hand and wrist arthritis received no treatment. At the end of the study, those in the massage group reported lower anxiety and depressed mood, as well as less pain and greater grip strength.

Many massage therapists add warming products like Prossage to their therapy, which is something you can use in your self-massage, as well. To get started and find a massage therapist near you, try using the Biofreeze Professional Finder. Just select the body parts that cause you pain, then select “massage therapist,” and you'll be presented with a list located near your zip code.

3. Topical Pain Relievers

While some arthritis sufferers prefer heat therapy to relieve their pain, others prefer cold therapy. If you prefer cold to heat, then Biofreeze® pain reliever is for you. This topical analgesic contains menthol, which works to block the pain signals to the brain. You just apply it directly to the skin where you’re having pain, and it gets to work. And combining self-massage with Biofreeze has been shown to provide even more pain relief than massage alone.

In the study, researchers split 20 women with hand arthritis into two groups. Both received the same 15-minute hand massages once a week for four weeks and were told to self-massage at home daily with Biofreeze.

At the end of the study, women who received the Biofreeze treatment saw greater improvement in hand function and perceived grip strength as well as a greater reduction in hand pain, depressed mood and sleep disturbances.

“Biofreeze enhances the properties of a massage,” says Field, who led the study, supported by Performance Health She credits the mood change to both the reduction in pain and the fact that massage increases serotonin, a natural anti-depressant.

Other Resources

Dealing with arthritis of any sort can be frustrating, and it can make you feel like you’re on your own dealing with it. But you don’t have to feel alone. The Arthritis Foundation not only provides informational resources and toolkits to help manage your life with arthritis, it also houses a community of people who live every day with arthritis of some sort. You can read their blog articles, connect with other members and stay up to date on new ways to manage your life with arthritis.

Give Yourself a Hand

Managing your hand arthritis pain doesn’t have to stop you from living your life. With these helpful tips and products, along with professional care resources, you can find relief from hand arthritis. Exercises with the TheraBand Hand Exerciser and self-massage with Prossage or Biofreeze can be performed at home, work or even on a plane—allowing you to manage your pain anywhere you go. Keep a few of these handy products in your bag, your car or your purse, and you can keep arthritis at bay. So give yourself a hand and see what works for you!

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