As arthritis wears away at the cartilage and cushioning in the joints, it causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Simple tasks like gripping a utensil, twisting a doorknob, or using a keyboard can become painful, difficult, or nearly impossible.
Medical options for arthritis do exist. Your doctor may prescribe pain medications or anti-inflammatory treatments to help ease the symptoms. In some cases, steroid injections may be prescribed as well. There are also surgical repairs that can be considered if your arthritis is resistant to treatment.
Before electing for something as dramatic as surgery, however, it may help to try a few home exercises to relieve the pain and stiffness of arthritic hands. You can try these exercises alongside medicines prescribed by your doctor, or on their own, but it’s always best to start earlier than later. These exercises will help flex and ease the joints in the hand and can be performed anywhere.
Making a Fist
Start by holding your hand (either one works) up straight as if you were about to perform a handshake, though you don’t need to extend your arm. Next, slowly bend your hand into a fist where the thumb is on the outside of the hand. It is important to be gentle during this, so squeezing your hand is unnecessary. Once the fist is formed, open your hand until the fingers are straight once more. Repeat ten times; then switch to your other hand.
This exercise begins in the same spread “handshake” position as the first exercise. Slowly bend your thumb down until it touches your palm while keeping the other fingers as straight as you can. Hold it there for five to 10 seconds then slowly straighten it back up. Repeat for each finger and then switch to the other hand.
This begins similar to the finger bending exercise, including the shake position and bending the thumb. However, instead of bending until it touches the palm, your goal is the base of the pinky finger. You don’t need to make contact with the base, but you should stretch as far as you can. Hold that position for a few seconds, then slowly release. Repeat ten times and then switch hands.
This exercise is also called the “O” exercise. You start with your hand held up and straight as if giving a high-five, with your fingers spread apart. Next, slowly curve your fingers in until they touch. The result should be a claw or O-like shape. Hold for five to 10 seconds and then straighten out. Perform this exercise a few times per day on each hand, but you don’t need to do them all at once. The Claw works best when your hands start feeling sore or stiff.
Start in the handshake position again, but this time rest the side of your hand on a flat surface so that your thumb is pointing upwards. Keep the thumb pointing as straight up as you can while slowly folding your fingers inward. The result will be a “thumbs-up” pose. Hold it for a few seconds and then straighten. Repeat ten times and then switch hands. This exercise works better when the hand can be kept level, which is what the table surface is meant to provide.
Place your hand flat on a table with the palm down and fingers spread. While keeping your other fingers as flat as possible, slowly lift your thumb as high as you can. Hold for a few seconds and then lower. Repeat for each finger and then switch hands.
Arthritis in the hands isn’t just limited to your fingers. This exercise is meant to aid your wrists. Begin by holding one arm out straight with the wrist loose and your palm hanging down and facing inwards. Reach around with your other hand and press against the back of the loose hand, slowly pushing it towards your body. Push until you feel a stretching sensation in your wrist and arm; then hold for a few seconds before releasing. Repeat ten times and switch hands.
Other Home Remedies
The above exercises are useful when you feel bouts of stiffness coming on and can keep your joints relatively loose. In addition to exercises, there are some other home remedies you can try. As always, be sure to talk to your doctor about any home or alternative remedies you are using or plan to use:
1. Ice pack
As with any form of inflammation or swelling, ice can be helpful in finding relief for arthritic hands. You can use an ice pack, a sack of frozen vegetables, or even just ice cubes in a Ziploc bag. Mileage may vary with this method, but when using ice therapy you should place the ice pack on one or two joints at a time for a few minutes, leave it off for about 30 seconds, and then repeat. Continue until 20 minutes have passed and repeat several times a day. Remember to keep a towel or cloth between the ice pack and your skin to avoid frostbite.
Ginger has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and the honey/cinnamon combination is known to relax stiffened muscles. Teas using either of these can be helpful in easing arthritic hands. For ginger, boil a small portion in a cup of water for ten minutes and then strain and drink two to three times per day. For honey and cinnamon, mix a tablespoon of honey and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon into your tea and then drink each morning on an empty stomach.
3. Epsom salts
Bone demineralization is a common side effect of arthritis. Epsom salts are a rich source of magnesium, which both lessens nerve pain and is important for bone mineralization. Mix two cups of Epsom salt in warm bath water and then soak your hands (or any other arthritic joint) for 20-30 minutes. It can take a few weeks to take effect.
Like ginger, turmeric has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory traits that can be beneficial for pain relief in arthritic hands. Unlike ginger, you don’t make a tea with turmeric. Instead, add a teaspoon of turmeric to a glass of hot milk (a bit of honey for sweetness is optional) and drink once a day. Another option is to add a tablespoon of turmeric to a quart of water and boil for ten minutes. Allow the resulting mixture to cool and then drink once each day.
Interestingly, garlic doesn’t need to be eaten for you to enjoy the anti-inflammatory abilities that its sulfur and selenium content can offer. Instead, you can fry two chopped garlic cloves in two tablespoons of mustard oil. Turn off the heat and let the resulting mixture cool until it is warm to your liking. Then apply it to the affected joints and gently massage. Repeat twice daily.