Arthritis in the hand can make it difficult to do simple things, like turning a key or opening a jar. Medication can ease arthritis pain, but therapies offer additional relief and mobility.
Opening a jar. Turning a door knob. Holding a grocery bag. An arthritic hand can make the simplest things in life difficult.
“Arthritis is often a condition you have to live with, so it is important to manage it early on,” says Randy Wolfe, a certified hand therapist and occupational therapist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation.
While medication can help ease arthritis pain, therapies involving heat, stretching and gentle strength training usually offer further relief and increased mobility. After a thorough evaluation, patients follow these steps provided by Wolfe:
- Apply warmth. Patients usually start by dipping the hand into warm paraffin wax, which provides comfort and makes joints more flexible. “We recommend our patients apply a warm, moist compress at home as many as six to eight times a day,” he says.
- Stretch and flex. Patients perform a series of very gentle stretches, such as flexing and straightening the fingers, turning the palms upward and then down and rotating the thumb joint.
- Add gentle strength exercises. Wolfe adds gentle strength exercises, when appropriate, such as squeezing a ball of putty or pulling a light resistance band. “We limit the amount of strength exercises we do in order to limit damage to the joints,” he notes.
- Modify activities. Wolfe helps patients modify their daily activities to reduce pain and increase success. Examples include opening a bottle with pliers or using specially designed tools to complete tasks, such as a long, stick-like key holder designed to provide more leverage when starting a car or unlocking a door.
“We work closely with our patients and then prepare them to do the above steps at home,” says Wolfe. “Committing to the routine can improve everyday life for people with arthritic hands.”