If you suffer from arthritis, you know that hands are one of the most common (and the most inconvenient too) places to experience it.
As arthritis wears away at the cartilage and cushioning in the joints, it causes inflammation, severe pain, and stiffness. Yesterday’s simple tasks like twisting a doorknob, gripping a utensil, or using a keyboard can become painful, difficult, or nearly impossible!
Medical options for arthritis do exist. Your doctor may prescribe you 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.
Yet, before going in for something as dramatic as surgery, it may help to try a few home exercises to relieve the pain and stiffness of arthritic hands. Surely, you can try these exercises alongside medicines prescribed by your doctor, or on their own, but it is always best to start earlier than later. These exercises will help ‘flex –and-relax’ the joints in both hands and can be performed anywhere.
1. Finger bending
Spread and stretch your palm first.
Then slowly bend your thumb down until it touches your palm while keeping the other fingers as straight as you can.
Hold it there for 5 to 10 seconds, and then slowly straighten it back up.
Repeat for each finger and then switch to the other hand.
2. Making a fist
This exercise begins in the same spread “handshake” position as the first one. Start by holding your hand (either one works) up straight as if you were about to perform a handshake, though you do not 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 action, so squeezing your hand is unnecessary. Once the fist is formed, open your hand until the fingers are straight once more. Repeat 10 times. Then switch to your other hand.
3. Thumb stretch
This begins similarly 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 10 times and then switch hands.
4. The claw
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 5 to 10 seconds and then straighten out. Perform this exercise a few times per day on each hand, but you do not need to do them all at once. The Claw works best when your hands start feeling sore or stiff.
5. Table bending
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 10 times and then switch hands.
Note: This exercise works better when the hand can be kept level, which is what the table surface is meant to provide.
6. Finger lifts
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.
7. Wrist stretch
Arthritis in the hands isn’t just limited to your fingers. This exercise is meant to aid your wrists as well.
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 10 times and switch hands.
Other home-made remedies
The above described-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 also try.
As always, be sure to talk to your doctor about any home or alternative remedies you are using or plan to use:
Interestingly, garlic does not need to be eaten for you to enjoy the anti-inflammatory abilities that its sulfur and selenium content can offer. Instead, you can fry 2 chopped garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of mustard oil. Turn off the heat and let the resulting mixture cool until it is warm to your taste. Then apply it to the affected joints and gently massage. Repeat twice daily.
The ginger tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and the honey/cinnamon combination is known to relax stiffened muscles. Teas prepared by using either of these can be helpful in easing arthritic hands.
For ginger tea, boil a small portion in a cup of water for 10 minutes and then strain and drink 2 to 3 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.
10. Epsom salts
Bone demineralization is a common side effect of arthritis. Epsom salts are a rich source of magnesium, which both lessens a nerve pain and is important for bone mineralization.
Directions: Mix 2 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 feel the effect.
Turmeric, just like ginger, has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can be beneficial for pain relief in arthritic hands. But, unlike ginger, you do not 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 it for 10 minutes. Allow the resulting mixture to cool and then drink once each day.
12. An ice pack
An Ice pack can be helpful in reaching a quick relief for arthritic hands, as with any form of inflammation or swelling. You can use an ice pack, a sack of frozen vegetables, or even just ice cubes in a Ziploc bag.
Duration may vary with this method, but when using ice therapy you should place the ice pack on 1 or 2 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: Keep a towel or a fine cloth between the ice pack and your skin to avoid frostbite.