If you suffer with arthritis in your hands, wrists, or fingers, you know what a negative impact it can have on your day-to-day life.
When you are in the midst of an arthritis flare-up, everything from opening the refrigerator door, to driving your car, to walking your dog can be painful. But there’s good news. Hand therapy can help relieve arthritis symptoms, according to Summit Orthopedics hand therapist Sara Balster, MS, OTR/L, CHT.
“In hand therapy, there are quite a few things we can do to help with hand arthritis, based on what we see in the individual’s initial evaluation,” Balster said.
Top six hand therapy tips for arthritis
Try a splint or brace
As a starting point, there are several types of splints and braces available to offer support during activity or at night. Two examples are a thumb brace or a finger brace. A hand therapy specialist can help you determine whether you’d benefit from any of these.
Use pain-relieving modalities
Hand therapy specialists have a variety of pain relief techniques up their sleeves, so to speak. Examples include warm water soaks, heat packs, and paraffin wax baths. You can try some of these techniques during your therapy appointment, and your hand therapist can help you get any equipment you need to continue benefiting at home.
Adopt joint protection techniques
“During a flare-up, it’s important to protect the joint that has arthritis, and hand therapy can help you learn how to do that effectively,” Balster said. For example, to relieve arthritis pain, you can:
- Use larger joints to do the work — carrying a bag with the elbow or shoulders rather than with the fingers, for example
- Resting the joint and taking breaks when you’re doing repetitive tasks
- Using a brace
- Pushing an object, rather than pulling or carrying it
Prioritize energy conservation
After a night of rest, your hands might be ready for some work, and you can plan your day accordingly to optimize your quality of life. For example:
- Break up the day, so you’re not stressing your hands for too long at a time
- Break up heavy activities throughout the week
Consider adaptive equipment
The right tool can make life a lot easier, especially if you have hand arthritis. Try:
- A jar opener
- Elastic shoelaces that you don’t have to tie
- A buttonhook to help with getting dressed
- Larger pens and pencils, so you don’t have to grip so hard
Keep what you have
“Do hand exercises every day to maintain your range of motion and strength to decrease pain and stiffness,” Balster said. Your hand therapy specialist can help you find the right exercises for your hand arthritis symptoms.
More resources for you:
- Find out if you have hand and wrist tendonitis
- Learn more about the top hand therapy exercises
- Learn more about the common reasons athletes may need hand surgery