Arthritis in the fingers can be uncomfortable and cause symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. These symptoms make hand movements, such as grasping and pinching, difficult, limiting the person's ability to perform daily tasks. Osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two types of arthritis that most commonly affect the joints of the fingers. Additional symptoms may appear depending on the type of arthritis affecting the finger joints.
Fortunately, numerous remedies can help ease the discomfort of finger arthritis, from hand exercises to help strengthen fingers to over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers and surgical procedures.
In arthritis, the fingers can swell due to inflammation of the synovium. The three most common sites of osteoarthritis in the hand are:
- Trapezius-metacarpal or basilar joint: Base of the thumb.
- Distal Interphalangeal Joint (DIP): The joint closest to the tip of the toe.
- Proximal Interphalangeal Joint (PIP): The middle joint of the finger.
Symptoms caused by arthritis of the fingers include:
- Joint pain
- Stiffness, especially in the morning.
People with RA may also experience warmth and redness in the hands in addition to the symptoms listed above. RA also often affects both arms and is symmetrical, while OA usually affects only the dominant arm and is asymmetric to the affected joints, even if it is in both arms. Patients with RA tend to have prolonged periods of morning stiffness compared to people with OA.
The muscles that support the arm joint can be strengthened, and arm exercises can help. Exercise increases blood flow to cartilage, providing it with the nutrients it needs to maintain health and prevent further deterioration. Also, the stronger your muscles, the more weight they can support. As a result, the bones in the joints bear less weight and the damaged cartilage is better protected.
The following exercises are easy to do and can help with arthritis pain:
- Make a fist: start with your fingers straight and then make a fist slowly. Make sure your thumb is on the outside of your hand. Don't over-tighten, then straighten again.
- Finger Curl – Extend your arm in front of you, palm up. Then take each finger and move it very slowly towards the center of the palm. Hold it, then stretch your arm.
- Thumb flexion: Bend the thumb towards the palm. Go as far as possible, hold down, and then start over.
- Make C or O: Move your fingers as if you are about to catch a small ball and try to make a C or O. Go as far as possible. Stretch your fingers and repeat.
- Thumb Up: Hold your hand in a free fist with your little finger on the table. Then move the pointer over your thumb up, lower it, and repeat.
- Finger Raise : With your hand on a flat surface, lift each finger in turn. Repeat the sequence with both hands.
- Wrist curls: Keep the palm of the left or right hand facing down. Then take your other hand and gently press your entire hand to the floor.
- Gently Squeeze – Exercises such as squeezing a rubber ball, spreading your fingers, and clenching your fist have been shown to be effective in reducing osteoarthritis symptoms.
Do these quick stretches throughout the day to strengthen your arms. Don't over-stretch your arm and check with your doctor before starting these exercises to make sure they're right for you. A physical or occupational therapist can help you develop a personalized arm exercise plan that works best for you.
In addition to exercise, you can also use a variety of over-the-counter topical and oral medications to control arthritis pain in your fingers.
Nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are recommended to treat arthritis symptoms due to their pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. NSAIDs cannot slow the progression of arthritis, but they can help treat pain and inflammation. You can get several NSAIDs without a prescription, but some are only available with a prescription.
Most NSAIDs work by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2, enzymes that play a key role in the production of prostaglandins that cause pain and inflammation. The less prostaglandins, the less inflammation, pain, and swelling.
Over-the-counter NSAIDs that are commonly used to treat arthritis pain include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
Due to side effects in patients taking COX-2 inhibitors, including adverse cardiovascular events and strokes, the only FDA-approved selective COX-2 inhibitor available on the market is celecoxib.
Finger pain and general discomfort come from inflammation, and research has shown that EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are beneficial in reducing inflammation. This, in turn, can reduce the swelling and discomfort associated with arthritis of the fingers. EPA and DHA are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are found in fish and help the body with critical development and functional needs.
Another supplement that has the potential to help with arthritis pain is ginger. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the effect of ginger supplementation on RA symptoms, disease activity and gene expression were measured in 70 participants. Research has shown that ginger supplementation can improve RA symptoms.
Heat / cold treatment
Hot and cold therapy can also help relieve discomfort. Heat therapy can help relieve muscle tension discomfort and pain sensitivity, while cold therapy can help fight inflammation and swelling.
To stay warm, take a warm bath, hot tub, or Jacuzzi for about 20 minutes, or take a warm shower. After that, dress warmly to prolong the effect. A heating pad is another good way to keep the area warm. You can also buy wet heating pads or heat a wet towel in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Taste it to make sure it's not too hot, then wrap it in a dry towel and place it on the sore area.
For cold treatment, use an ice pack and apply for 20 minutes at a time. Store several gel-filled cold packs in the freezer. Frozen peas or ice cubes in a bag will work too.
Splinting can help with finger pain in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It has been shown to reduce pain and improve joint mobility. In particular, resting hand splints have been identified as an option that provides significant pain relief in older adults with thumb OA without side effects.
Compression gloves can also relieve pain. A systematic review evaluated four trials to determine the effectiveness of wearing long finger gloves at night. The studies compared full length finger compression gloves with placebo gloves that did not provide full length compression. In RA patients, finger joint swelling was significantly reduced with the use of compression gloves. However, the study found no reduction in pain or stiffness and provided inconclusive results in terms of grip strength and dexterity.
If the above remedies are not enough to ease your pain, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you manage your arthritis symptoms.
Corticosteroids , also called steroids, like prednisone and methylprednisolone, are often prescribed to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. These medications can be administered orally, intravenously, or intramuscularly.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are the main prescription drugs for the treatment of RA. They work by blocking inflammation and, therefore, slowing the progression of the disease. Methotrexate is a common DMARD used to treat RA. There are several different types of DMARD, and they all work in different ways:
- Conventional DMARDs: they limit the immune system.
- Targeted DMARDs: they block precise pathways within immune cells
- Biologicals – made from living cells and targeting individual immune proteins called cytokines.
DMARDs are used for chronic therapy, whereas corticosteroids are used only briefly in exacerbations, given their many side effects.
Cortisone is a synthetic corticosteroid hormone that suppresses the immune system, helping to reduce inflammation and pain. Cortisone injections are used to relieve inflammation in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They are injected directly into the affected joint. These injections can take effect immediately or after a few days. Relief from these injections can last from several months to a year. It is important to remember that cortisone injections are used as part of a treatment plan.
A Certified Manual Therapist (CHT) is an occupational therapist or physical therapist who specializes in treating people with conditions that affect the arm, wrist, and other upper extremities. Some examples of hand therapy include writing the alphabet and strengthening your grip. CHTs must have a minimum of three years of work experience, 4,000 hours of training, and recertification every five years upon passing the exam.
The manual therapist effectively provides postoperative rehabilitation, conservative or conservative interventions, prophylaxis, and industrial ergonomics consultations. They can help people with arthritis:
- Activity or exercise modes specially designed to increase movement, agility and strength with the ultimate goal of improving function.
- Adaptive methods and suggestions for adaptive / assistive devices and equipment.
- Training in joint protection and energy saving
- Treat acute or chronic pain
As arthritis progresses, the joints can become deformed. When medications and home remedies don't provide adequate relief from finger arthritis pain and discomfort, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.
The purpose of a joint fusion, also called arthrodesis, is to fuse the joints to facilitate bone growth. Splicing the finger joints can help relieve finger joint pain caused by arthritis. The surgeon makes an incision in the skin and removes the damaged joint from the finger. A metal or plastic rod is then inserted to hold the finger bones together. The bundle is wrapped around the new connection and sutured. Your arm may be put in a cast to keep it from moving while your finger heals. You can also get a bandage to help your arm stay in place while the nerve block clears.
Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes , are small bony formations. If your fingers are causing significant discomfort, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them. Your doctor will make one or more small incisions near the bone spur. They will then use small tools to remove the piece of bone. Removing a bone spur can help relieve pain.
The damaged finger joint surface is removed and replaced with an artificial implant during finger joint replacement surgery, also known as arthroplasty. During this procedure, an artificial implant is placed in the hollow center of the bone. Joint replacement is not recommended for all patients.
One problem is that articulated finger implants do not fully replicate normal finger movements. Most are made of silicone rubber, which is flexible but breaks and slides easily. Some studies have shown that some silicone implants fail in 10 years, making them a poor choice for younger patients.
Get the word of drug information
Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the hands. Be sure to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Not all of the treatments listed above are suitable for everyone with arthritis in the fingers. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan to reduce the symptoms associated with your condition. While it can be frustrating when a treatment fails or fails immediately, you have many options to choose from. Most likely, one of them will give you relief.