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How to Splint Fingers Deformed By Arthritis

written by: Willie Scott • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/30/2010

There are several methods to splint fingers deformed by arthritis, but the main method is to use two splints, one to use during the day and one as a resting splint for nighttime use. The daytime ones should keep the fingers aligned without causing pain, the nighttime splint supporting the fingers.

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    Introduction: How to Splint Fingers that are Deformed by Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis attacks all the joints in one’s body, even the tiny finger joints which it twists causing ulna drift, extreme pain and limiting movement and lifting capability.

    There is not a lot that one can do about this except take pain killers and anti-inflammatory medication, followed by the inevitable surgery to replace knuckle and finger joints by an orthopedic surgeon.

    I have seen this done and witnessed success, where before the patient could hardly open the hand and after the operation was able to knit again.

    However, before electing for surgery there is another method of relieving the pain of fingers deformed by arthritis using a finger splint.

    This is an article on rheumatoid arthritis where we will examine the use of finger splints to alleviate pain and stop further deformity.

    We begin then with a quick look at the anatomy of the fingers.

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    Anatomy of the Fingers – An Overview

    There are five bones in the palm of one’s hand known as metacarpals and they fan outwards from the Carpus, eight bones which make up the wrist joint.

    Joining onto each metacarpals are the three bones of the fingers and two of the thumb called phalanges. These are fastened together at the knuckle joint (MCP joint), the DIP joint, this being the one near the tip of the finger, and the PIP joint nearest to the knuckle joint. All these joints have a shiny surface which gives a smooth movement – until the nasty Rheumatoid Arthritis eats these surfaces away, leading to deformation and pain with the slightest movement, finally giving way to ulna drift. I have inserted a photo of my hands below as an example of this, and a few deformed fingers which would have been worse had I not worn splints.

    My wife has Fibromyalgia; a disease somewhat akin to R/A and was at the Rheumatologist a few days ago. He knows me (over 25 years) so was asking how I was getting on and she told him about us getting in late one night and making a quick dinner with a tinned steak pie. Neither of us could open it with the tin-opener, yep-deformation of the fingers strikes again. We must invest in a new electric tin-opener. Anyway, I diverge, I think it is an age thing or me being Irish but we move on in the next section to examine a couple of types of splints that really do work.

    Reference Web: Hand Anatomy

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    Splints for Rheumatoid Arthritis Deformed Fingers

    I got R/A many years ago and it went for my main weight bearing joints – hips, knees and ankles. It wasn’t until the last ten years or so that my fingers have been affected. I am fortunate to be able to be admitted a few times a year to the local Highland Rheumatology Unit in the highlands of Scotland, where I was fitted up with my first hand splint for deformed fingers.

    • Custom Made Molded Plastic Hand and Finger Splint

    The occupational therapist made the splints for me in the following manner:

    1. A trace was made of each hand, holding my fingers as straight as possible.

    2. This was transferred onto a piece of thermo-plastic sheet about ¼" thick, and cut to shape.

    3. The sheet was then immersed in boiling water and when cooled sufficiently molded to the shape of my hands, including my fingers and thumb.

    4. Velcro straps were then fitted to the splint and these could be adjusted to bring the fingers straighter during the day and slackened off to become a resting splint at night.

    • Ring Splints

    These can be prescribed by a doctor or bought from medical outlets or over the internet but should be fitted by an occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

    Silver Ring Splints is a popular make of ring splints and do not look out of place on a couple of fingers. (Some splints draw other people’s attention to one’s problem, making them stare shamelessly at the deformed fingers). They are used to counteract swan-neck and mallet finger deformities and consist of two rings joined to each other so they form a spring effect when fitted to the deformed finger as shown.

    Commercial Splints. Used for Mallet finger deformity, these are applied to the affected joint in two or three parts being tightened by a patented strapping device.

    SIRIS Swan Neck Splint on DIP Joint 

    mallet Finger Splint from AAAS.org 

    Reference webs:

    1. Silver Rings - http://www.silverringsplint.com/our-splints/

    2. Medical Trial of Finger Splints - http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab004574.html

    3. Mallet Finger Splint - http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00018