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Pain Relief Options for Arthritis in the Hand

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 6/18/2011

There are a number of pain relief options for arthritis in the hand; some can be practiced at home after a consultation with a physiotherapist. Other options such as electrotherapy or hot wax treatment are best suited to the rheumatology clinic, where they are carried out by the physiotherapist.

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    Common Pain Relief Options

    Rheumatoid arthritis in the hands is particularly debilitating as the hands are used in nearly all activities. It often causes deformity and reduction of strength in the grip and normal hand functions. There are a number of options for pain relief for hand arthritis, and these include medication and exercise after treatment.

    Here we look at the problem and the various treatments to alleviate the pain. We begin with a quick recap of the joints which make up the hand.

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    Joints Which Make up the Hand

    The joints which are affected by the rheumatoid arthritis of the hand are mainly the wrist joint, knuckle, and two finger joints.

    The wrist joint is made up of eight separate joints from which five metacarpal bones cross the palm of the hand joining the fingers at the knuckle joints metacarpophalangeal (MCP).

    From here, there are two more bones that make up the fingers: The proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP) in the middle, with the distal interphalangeal (DIP) at the tip of the finger.

    The thumb has two bones joined at the knuckle and an interphalangeal joint.

    This is a lot to take in so below is a simple sketch showing the locations of these joints, which prove to be so painful to the hand arthritis sufferer.

    Hand Joints 

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    Five Pain Relief Options

    1. Anti - inflammatory Medication

    An anti-inflammatory, such as Celebrex, can reduce pain and swelling in the joints.

    2. Cortisone Injections.

    This involves the injection of a cortisone steroid into the affected joint. It works very well, although there is a limit to how many injections can be given.

    3. Hot and Cold Therapy

    • Hot treatment.

    This involves the use of hot wax that is stored in a stainless steel unit. The hands are dipped into the wax up to the wrists and lifted out. Once the wax has set, the operation is repeated until a wax covering of about 1/8 inch has built up. Next, towels are wrapped over this wax coating and left in place for about 20 minutes, after which the wax is removed by peeling it off the hands.

    There are wax units suitable for home use and also “therapeutic mitts" that can be heated in a microwave to give relief from pain and stiffness.

    Hot treatments should not be used on joints that are already hot with the affect of arthritis; cold treatment should be used instead.

    • Cold Treatment

    This involves getting the joints as cold as possible using crushed ice or ice gel packs that can be frozen in the freezer.

    A wet cloth should be placed between the skin and the ice-pack to avoid burning the skin.

    Ice and hot wax are excellent natural healers, reducing swelling and pain, and giving almost instant pain relief for hand arthritis.

    4. Hand Exercises

    Hand exercises should be performed following the hot or cold treatment, since the swelling and pain are now reduced enough to allow this.

    Please refer to the list of hand exercises in the next section. Most of these can be carried out at home after being demonstrated by a physiotherapist.

    5. Hand Splints

    Hand splints can be made to rest the hands and to stop further deviation from the original shape.

    Resting splints can be worn at night; they do work! Finger splints for conditions such as “trigger finger" also work but have to be used when the arthritis is in the early stages for maximum benefit.

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    Effective Hand Exercises Following Hot/Cold Therapy

    1. Before starting the treatment, it is customary to test the hand's strength using a pressure meter and squeezing the handle as hard as possible to achieve the maximum reading.
    2. Make a fist and then straighten fingers and relax. Repeat five times.
    3. Touch the thumb with each finger in turn and relax. Repeat three times.
    4. With the hand as flat as possible on a table; spread fingers out and bring together and relax. Repeat five times
    5. With the hand as flat as possible on a table; straighten fingers and move wrist from side to side and relax. Repeat five times.
    6. Using therapeutic gel or putty make as many shapes as possible in five minutes.
    7. Using a sponge ball, squeeze as hard as possible and relax; repeat 10 times.
    8. Using a hand spring, squeeze as hard as possible and relax; repeat 10 times.
    9. Use the hand strength testing device again as before and check the measurement.

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    References

    Author's own experience

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