How to Treat Osteoarthritis in the Hands
Osteoarthritis is a common condition caused by continued wear and tear on the joints. Over time, the repeated motions that your hands go through each day can begin to wear them down. As the cartilage wears away, your bones are left to rub against one another. This can cause changes to the bone structure as well as uncomfortable symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 32.5 million adults in the United States.
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, you’ll undoubtedly want an action plan to help you manage and minimize the symptoms. Here’s what you need to know to address this condition and keep it under control.
Recognize Osteoarthritis Symptoms
Properly treating osteoarthritis of the hand begins with an accurate diagnosis. It’s important to understand the symptoms and scope of your condition so that you know when the discomfort you’re feeling is the result of osteoarthritis or when it’s caused by something else.
You may have osteoarthritis in the hands if you experience:
- Cracking or clicking sounds in your joints. This sound comes from your joints rubbing together once the cartilage has broken down.
- Redness and swelling of the joints.
- Weakness in the hands, making it difficult to perform routine tasks like lifting weighty items or turning door knobs.
- Lumps or bumps along the fingers near your finger joints.
- Enlarged joints. As cartilage breaks down and swelling occurs, the shape of your joints may change.
If you believe that you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, you should consult a doctor for a definite diagnosis. Your physician can rule out a similar condition like rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition.
Help Support the Joints
Using a brace or splint can help prevent deformities associated with osteoarthritis while also reducing the strain on your hand joints. A healthcare provider can help you find and fit a splint or brace appropriately. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for use, as you should wear this type of support on a limited basis so your muscles don’t weaken. Some individuals find it easiest to use splints and braces at night to keep their hands in a comfortable position while they’re sleeping.
Use the Recommended Medications
Your doctor can recommend any of several medications that may help with your osteoarthritis symptoms. You should use these as suggested by your healthcare provider. Some medications that you may want to speak with your doctor about include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. Naproxen and ibuprofen are available over the counter. Your physician may also prescribe other similar medications. You may also prefer to use a topical NSAID like diclofenac gel.
- Cortisone shots. Your doctor may use injections applied directly to the joints to help with the discomfort of osteoarthritis.
- Acetaminophen — an over-the-counter pain reliever that can help minimize discomfort.
In addition to these medications, you may also try supplements like ginger, turmeric, glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, and chondroitin sulfate. These may help with inflammation and pain.
Practice Hand Exercises
Occupational therapy can prove extremely helpful for many patients. A skilled therapist can teach you exercises that will increase and maintain strength and dexterity in your hands. Some exercises that you can try include the following:
- Beginning with an outstretched hand, slowly bend your fingers to form a loose fist with the thumb on the outside. Slowly open the hand again, straighten the fingers. Repeat.
- Squeeze an exercise ball in your hand with as much force as you can for a count of five. Release.
- Lay your hand flat on the table and tap each finger against the table, proceeding back and forth along the hand.
- Gradually bend your finger joints in, beginning with the end joints and proceeding to the middle joints and finally the joints at the base of the hand, making a fist. Hold for five seconds then release your fist in the reverse motion.
- Hold your hand sideways with the fingers straight and your thumb extended upward. Slowly bend your thumb downward to your palm. Hold for two seconds, then raise your thumb. Repeat with the remaining fingers, bending them inward and releasing them one at a time.
- Hold your hand flat. Bend your first finger down to meet your thumb. Open the hand again and repeat with the other fingers one at a time, lowering them to touch the thumb.
- Curve all four fingers down to form an “O” shape. Hold for five seconds and release.
Give Your Hands Rest
Avoid performing too many repetitive or strenuous hand movements. If you have to use your hands a great deal during the day, make time for a break where you can rest your hands. Try not to work your hands for more than two or three hours at a time.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
While you may want to avoid certain strenuous acclivities for your hands, there’s no reason to limit your exercise overall. In fact, exercising more and maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way toward decreasing your osteoarthritis symptoms. Obesity is associated with body-wide inflammation, which can cause you to develop osteoarthritis. Losing weight may ease many of the symptoms of this condition.
Consume an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Many foods contribute to inflammation, making your joints more painful. Focus instead on foods that help fight inflammation like fresh produce and whole grains. Tomatoes and green leafy vegetables are especially good for this purpose. Fatty fish, such as salmon, and tuna, nuts, and olive oil are valuable features of an anti-inflammatory diet as well. Avoid red meats, processed foods, and those containing refined sugar.
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, it’s important to find a qualified doctor to help you manage your conditions and relieve the symptoms as much as possible. Our team at The Hand and Wrist Institute specializes in conditions affecting your hands. We can help diagnose osteoarthritis in the hands and develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs. Contact us for a consultation to get started.