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Treating Arthritic Hands The Easy Way

Updated on May 18, 2014

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic painful disease that affects the cartilage of joints and can result in severe deformity and loss of function. Many people who suffer from arthritis or degenerative joint disease find difficulty performing simple activities the rest of us take for granted. In this article I’m going to discuss some of the more common arthritic hand conditions and ways to protect your joints so they are less painful and more functional. I will also introduce you to some products you can use to help you perform some tasks more easily.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This happens when the median nerve of the hand becomes inflamed as it passes through the fixed space of the wrist’s carpal tunnel, but swelling and inflammation from arthritis can also bring on this condition. The result is pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb, index and middle fingers. There is also atrophy of the muscle at the base of the thumb, making it difficult to use your thumb. CTS is three times more common among women.

It is generally believed that carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive injury. People who type a lot are seen as the major target of this condition. However, the Mayo Clinic conducted some research of its employees who use the computer frequently, and found that while 30 percent complained of the classic symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, the disease was only confirmed in 3.5 percent. Hand therapists believe that those people had some predisposition to repetitive injury. Maybe their wrist tunnel was too narrow (as in the case of women), or their tendons were more prone to inflammation.

Their recommendations? Observe proper posture, take frequent breaks from the computer and keep your joints in neutral alignment.

What do you think?

Have you ever suffered from arthritis of the hands? What was your approach?

See results

So what causes CTS

High task repetition with inappropriate rest cycles. Think about that the next time you blow dry your hair. Assembly line workers are also at great risk for developing CTS. Muscles and tendons need time to recover from the stress of the activity, and if they are not getting it, cumulative trauma can develop.

Forceful exertions. Constant pinching, gripping and/or squeezing an object such as a pliers, scissors, curling iron or a piece of cleaning equipment. Wearing gloves can require you to use more force to grasp or manipulate objects. If the gloves are very thick or poorly fitting, they can put more stress on your median nerve.

Awkward postures, as in when you are playing a piano or typing on the keyboard.

Weight bearing as in gymnastic sports


What have we found so far?

  • Rheumatoid arthritis can be crippling if left untreated, but it can be controlled.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome may result from rheumatoid arthritis
  • Treatments include pain-relieving drugs, splinting, exercise.
  • If symptoms do not improve then you may need surgery

What can you do about carpal tunnel syndrome?

See your doctor for a proper evaluation. Doctors usually perform two tests to diagnose CTS. One is the Tinel test, in which the doctor taps the median nerve in your wrist. If CTS is present, you will feel a tingling in your fingers or a shock-like sensation. The other is the Phalen test in which you are asked to point your fingers down and press the backs of your hands together. Your doctor may also ask you to perform a movement that brings on the symptoms. Following the evaluation, he may prescribe aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and recommend splinting and therapy. In more severe cases, your doctor may give you corticosteriod injections.

Your occupational therapist will fabricate a splint that will put your hand in a resting position when you are sleeping. This helps relieve pressure on the median nerve. She will give you another one to wear during the day to hold the wrist in a neutral position while performing tasks. In addition to splinting, the therapist will teach you to perform some stretching and strengthening exercises. Treatment usually lasts six weeks. If relief is not felt by that time, then surgery may be the only alternative.

Arthritic hand conditions

Name of condition
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Compression of the median nerve
Over the counter drugs
Causes pain, numbness and tingling
Splinting, exercise, surgery
Swan-neck deformity
Hyperextended PIP joint forms a neck
Splinting, surgery in severe cases
DIP joint is flexed. Difficulty picking up objects
opening jars, using a spoon or fork, turning a key
Opposite of swan-neck. The PIP joint
As for swan-neck
cannot straighten and the DIP joint bends back.
Same problems as above
Ulnar drift
Wrist and fingers turn toward the ulna -
Splinting and exercise
little finger side of the hand.
Avoid forceful exertions

Joint protection techniques

In addition to the treatment methods above, your therapist will teach you how to modify your activities of daily living in order to protect your joints. Remember, these conditions require that you minimize squeezing, pinching and forceful gripping as much as possible. The mother of one of my friends was squeezing a ball in hopes of getting rid of her hand deformity. I advised her against using it and explained that squeezing that ball was only making her condition worse.

Some things you can do

Use both palms, rather than fingers, to lift things; like when removing a pot off the stove, or lifting your child’s car seat.

Use electric jar and can openers

Do not close jars or pill bottles too tightly.

Slide utensils along the counter to avoid lifting.

Stabilize jars, cans, bottles on the countertop with Dycem, a non-skid material, so you don’t have to grip the object to steady it.

Purchase foam tubing to put over your pens, knives, forks, toothbrush or any item you may have difficulty holding. Or you may go a step further and order special silverware from a medical supply company.

Treating a swan-neck deformity

You can live with arthritis

If you are one of the unfortunate many who suffer from arthritis, know that you have hope. But like anything else, the earlier you begin treatment, the better your chance of overcoming this terrible disease. I have given you some great recommendations here, but they are no substitute for consulting with your medical doctor. Remember to follow an overall healthy lifestyle of proper diet, rest and exercise, along with your doctor's orders.


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    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for your comment, Ruby! We don't realize how important our hands are until we don't have the full use of them. Yes, fish oil and vitamins do help.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for your comment, James-wolve and for the vote.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Yes, allowing our fingers and hands to rest is the best. I too have to remember that more often. And take fish oil and vitamins. Great info.

    • James-wolve profile image

      Tijani Achamlal 

      4 years ago from Morocco

      Great job here! Thanks for the information.Voted up!

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      I have found fish oil to be helpful. My doctor recommended it for the dryness of my eyes, but since I started using it I find I no longer have knee pain. Thanks for stopping by, Jackie.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Some great advice; wear and tear on our bodies is like with material things; it will finally wear out! I take fish oil to help a lot with pain in my knees and right thumb.

      Up and sharing.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Bethperry, thanks for your comment! It's true, performing repetitive tasks without sufficient rest in between can lead to CTS and other hand injuries. I too have learned the benefit of frequent breaks.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      4 years ago from Tennesee

      Good Hub on the subject. I have had CTS, due to typing, and have learned to take sufficient breaks to prevent it from reoccurring. As I've also seen other people -even children- suffer it with repetitive sports activities, I would like to see more emphasis from training officials about the damage that can be done without those breaks. Thanks for posting the info!

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      You're welcome, Mona! Hope you find some relief soon. Every now and again I get a slight pain in my wrist and along my right thumb. When that happens, I rest for a while and it usually goes away.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      This is a very helpful article, as I have a constant pain on my right arm, since I work on the computer all day. Thank you very much.

    • quildon profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Joseph 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thank you so much for your kind comments.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Great suggestion and tips for protecting joints and making everyday tasks a little easier for those suffering with joint pain. I think everyone who texts and uses a computer regularly should be aware of carpal tunnel. Nice work!


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