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A person holding her wrist in pain.

Coping with Hand Arthritis: Tips for Daily Activities and Pain Management

Is painful hand arthritis affecting your ability to perform daily tasks and engage in the activities you love? Hand arthritis can be debilitating and negatively impact overall quality of life. The good news is that there are treatments, both non-surgical and surgical, that can alleviate pain caused by hand arthritis. 

Hand arthritis is a disease that attacks the tissues surrounding your joints and most commonly affects the knuckle joints closest to the nails (distal interphalangeal joints) and the basal thumb joint (carpometacarpal arthritis). There are many types of hand arthritis, but osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis are the most common. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage at the end of bones to degenerate is usually the result of wear and tear associated with aging. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect patients of any age. It causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue, eroding first the cartilage and then the bone. Psoriatic arthritis affects the skin and joints, causing swelling, stiffness, and pain.

Dr. Maximilian Meyer is a hand and upper extremity surgeon at Atlantic Orthopaedics who specializes in treatment of the fingers, hand, wrist, forearm, and elbow. His philosophy centers on listening to and working together with his patients to create individual care plans that help them return to an active lifestyle. Dr. Meyer stays up to date on the latest scientific evidence and advanced techniques, and is committed to providing compassionate orthopedic care. 

We asked Dr. Meyer to answer some frequently asked questions* about hand arthritis.

What are a few tips you would give your patients to cope with hand arthritis and pain management?

There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options available for hand arthritis, including bracing, topical and systemic anti-inflammatories, and injections. Additionally, working closely with a hand therapist can lead to significant improvements in pain and function. Surgery is typically reserved for patients whose symptoms have not responded to conservative treatments, and who feel that their hand arthritis limits their quality of life. When this happens, surgery can both relieve pain and improve hand function. My role as a surgeon is to help patients better understand the impact of arthritis on their hands, so that they can pick the treatment that is best for them. 

Are there any exercises that can help with hand arthritis pain management?

Arthritis in the hands typically presents with both pain and with stiffness. Both symptoms can often be improved with low-impact exercises that emphasize joint motion and tendon gliding. I commonly recommend the “6-pack” hand exercises for patients with stiffness, either from arthritis or after sustaining hand trauma. By systematically isolating and improving motion of the major joints in the hand with these exercises, patients often find that they are able to do more with less pain. The exercises are simple to do and illustrations that make it easier to visualize can be found online.

  1. Straight: straighten your fingers as much as possible.
  2. Tabletop: make a tabletop shape with your fingers by bending at the knuckles, keeping your wrist straight.
  3. Hook: bend and straighten your fingers, keeping your knuckles and wrist straight.
  4. Fist: make a fist, bending each joint as much as possible.
  5. Open and Close: straighten and open your fingers as if you are waving and then bring them back together.
  6. Thumb to Tip: make an “O” shape by touching your thumb to each fingertip, one at a time, opening your hand wide after each finger.

What are the signs it’s time to see an expert like yourself for hand arthritis pain?

It is never too early to see a hand surgeon for arthritis, as we can help guide non-operative treatments and relay patient-specific information to hand therapists prior to starting therapy.  

Patient Question: I have severe arthritis in my right hand. It affects everything I do from drying my hair, brushing my teeth, driving. How can I learn to deal with this excruciating pain?

Hand arthritis should not reach the point where it interferes with daily activities or with quality of life. If this occurs, surgical intervention in the form of joint-sparing procedures, joint replacement, or joint fusion can lead to significant improvements in hand function. I would encourage a visit to our office to explore treatment options.  

If you’re suffering from arthritis in your hands, there are many options available that can alleviate pain and help you get back to the activities you love. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Meyer to learn more. 

*Medical Disclosure: The information provided on this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, we do not dispense medical advice or treatments to individuals who have not been seen by a healthcare professional.

It’s crucial to understand that every individual’s medical situation is unique, and what may work for one person may not necessarily work for another. Additionally, individuals may have underlying health conditions, allergies, or other factors that require personalized attention and consultation with a qualified healthcare provider.

Therefore, we strongly advise individuals to consult with a licensed healthcare professional before initiating any new treatments, making changes to their current treatment regimen, or addressing any medical concerns. This includes seeking professional guidance for managing allergies, assessing potential medication interactions, and ensuring overall safety and efficacy of any suggested treatments.

We are not liable for any actions taken based on the information provided on this blog. The responsibility for healthcare decisions lies solely with the individual and their healthcare provider. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare professional promptly.

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