With winter cold and dampness in full bloom now, many of my patients are coming in complaining that their hands and finger joints are aching. They find it hard to work on a computer keyboard, do work around their house, or even sign their name, from stiffness. They try to rest their hands but the more inactive they become, the more their hands and fingers ache and become stiff. They want to know what they can do to stop this cycle of pain and stiffness and keep being able to use their hands and fingers. Here’s what I tell them.
To Keep Moving – Start Moving
It may sound counter-intuitive to recommend someone who’s having trouble moving their hands and fingers to start moving them more. Yet, exercise is exactly the best prescription for hand and finger joint pain and stiffness. However, there are a number of things you can do before exercise to help alleviate inflammation, pain, swelling of hand and finger joints that will allow you to move comfortably, more often.
Here’s what I recommend
1. Soak Hands. First, soak hands in a bowl of warm (not too hot) water with 1 tsp of Epsom salts for 20 minutes. The heated water helps pull any trapped fluids out of joints, which will help relieve stiffness. The magnesium in the salts also relaxes stiff muscles to make movement less painful.
2. Topical Pain Relief. There are over-the-counter pain relief solutions, containing capsaicin as the active ingredient that can be purchased from your local pharmacy. Apply sparingly to hands, especially at the finger joints and wrist joint. Put a pair of cotton gloves on for a while and/or wrap a heating pad around hands set on low heat for about 15 minutes.
Another option are Far Infrared gloves that you can purchase from health product stores or online. These can be worn once a day to decrease inflammation and swelling and increase circulation. These can even be purchased without fingertips so that you can wear them while working at a computer. Your hands should feel much less painful and you should be able to move them much more freely.
3. Oral Pain Relief. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen for temporary pain relief, however, I’d prefer you limit the use of these to very occasionally.
4. Exercise. As I stated earlier, movement is the best remedy for hand and finger joint pain and stiffness. Start by doing simple flexing and extending exercises like these:
a. Bend your fingers toward your palms with the tips of your fingers touching your palm. Then raise your fingers back up to their extended position. Repeat this 10 times.
b. Bend your fingertips towards your palm and slowly open them up “walking” your fingers back up to their completely extended position.
c. “Scary hands”. Hold up the palms of your hands and wiggle all your fingers at once like you would to indicate something is scary. Do several times a day.
d. “Hand Flashes”. Hold up the palms of your hands and flash your hands open and closed several times a day.
e. Keep moving. Do hand/finger mobility activities like knitting, playing a piano, shuffling/dealing cards, kneading dough, cat’s cradle yarn/string exercise.
5. Massage/acupressure. After soaking hands, apply a little capsaicin cream to hands, you can massage hands until they feel warm. Be sure to focus on the areas around the finger joints, very gently pulling the fingers forward by their tips. Reflexology, a form of acupressure, can also help alleviate swelling and pain as well.
6. Supplements. Glucosamine chondroitin and MSM supplements can help more long-term to prevent/decrease inflammation and prevent future flare-ups of stiffness and pain. Omega 3 fats, 2,000 mg of fish oil, or krill oil, or 2 tablespoons of flax oil per day helps prevent/relieve inflammation around all joints. Vitamin D3 also helps relieve inflammation in your body.
7. Diet. Watch the amount of acid in the foods that you are eating. Eat high acid foods sparingly and be sure to balance them with alkali foods. High acid foods can all lead to inflammation of joints that can set pain and stiffness into motion. High acid foods include most animal products, orange and tomato products, chocolate, coffee, sodas, and high carbohydrate (sugar) foods. Find a good acid/alkali food list to balance your food intake.
8. Check hormone levels. Sometimes, joint aches and pains can be related to fluctuating hormone levels in both men and women, but most commonly in menopausal women. Estrogen has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and decreasing estrogen levels can allow inflammation to become more pronounced. Low “T” (low testosterone) may also aggravate joint pain in men as well.
9. Stay Hydrated. You may be surprised to know that not drinking enough water every day can contribute to joint pain and stiffness throughout your entire body, not just your hands and fingers. Colder winter temperatures can deplete our body’s water supplies as much as hot, humid summer weather. Joints can become “dry” from lack of lubrication. This adds to inflammation and pain. Be sure to drink at least half your body weight in water each day.
As we get older, joint pain in our hands and fingers, and even throughout our entire body, can become more of an issue for many of the reasons listed above. The good news, however, is that with the proper attention, all of these are fixable issues. Hand and joint pain doesn’t have to sideline you. You can stay active and healthy all winter long without pain or stiffness in your bones!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Natural Health News
Hand and Finger Rheumatoid Arthritis, http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/hand-and-finger-ra?page=2
FIR Therapy/Prolotex, http://www.therapygloves.com/arthritishands.html