Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects the joints in the hands.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown. However, it’s clear that the condition develops due to wear and tear of the joints. Like all joints, those in the wrists and hands are protected by cartilage, which can wear down over time and lead to osteoarthritis.
The most common factors associated with osteoarthritis include aging, repetitive joint movement and trauma. It’s also more prevalent among women than men.
A 2011 study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases reports that females are more prone to symptomatic and erosive hand osteoarthritis. With an aging population, the impact of hand osteoarthritis will further increase (1).
Genetics can also be a factor in the development of osteoarthritis in the hands.
The condition can cause pain with movement or when at rest, joint swelling, joint stiffness, joint deformity, weakness and loss of muscle mass, and loss of joint and muscle functioning.
A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that symptomatic hand osteoarthritis is a common disease among the elderly and frequently impairs hand functioning (2).
The symptoms of hand arthritis differ from person to person. A lot depends on the specific joints affected. Hand arthritis is common in the wrist, basilar joint that connects your thumb and wrist, joints near the end of your fingers (DIP joints) and middle knuckles of the fingers (PIP joints).
If you are at a high risk of developing osteoarthritis of the hands or even suffering from it, there are many ways to prevent joint degeneration and control the symptoms.
Here are the top 10 ways to prevent and treat osteoarthritis in the hands.
1. Hot and Cold Therapy
You can use both hot and cold compresses to manage joint pain due to osteoarthritis in the hands.
The hot compress will help reduce pain and stiffness, while the cold compress will lessen swelling and inflammation.
- Prepare a hot compress by wrapping a hot water bottle in a thin towel.
- Make a cold compress by putting a few ice cubes in a large baggie and wrapping it in a thin towel.
- Put the hot compress on the affected joints for 2 minutes.
- Replace it with the cold compress and leave that on for 1 minute.
- Repeat the process for 15 minutes.
- Do this 2 or 3 times a day.
Depending upon your condition, you can also use these compresses separately.
2. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy can temporarily help improve pain and stiffness that occur due to hand arthritis (3).
Massaging the hands is an effective way to reduce the pain and inflammation. It improves blood circulation and also encourages toxin drainage to reduce swelling.
- Warm up some olive oil or coconut oil in the microwave.
- Dab the warm oil on the affected area.
- Using gentle strokes, massage the affected area for 10 minutes.
- Repeat 2 or 3 times daily.
Note: If massaging worsens the condition, stop doing it.
3. Hand Exercises
Doing hand exercises is a must when dealing with pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis in the hands.
Regularly performing hand exercises can help keep the supportive ligaments and tendons in the hands flexible. It will also improve blood circulation to the area and help reduce pain.
There are several hand exercises that you can try at home. Some of the exercises to alleviate arthritic pain in the hands are:
- Knuckle bends: Gently bend your middle knuckles, then straighten your fingers again. Do it several times.
- Fists: Form a fist with your fingers slowly, then release the fist.
- Finger touches: Touch your thumb to each fingertip one by one.
- Wall walking: Walk your fingers up a wall, then back down.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw, organic apple cider vinegar provides several trace nutrients to the body and also helps the body become more alkaline. This in turn reduces pain that occurs with arthritis in the hands.
In addition, it helps remove the buildup of toxins in the joints and connective tissues, which also plays a key role in reducing arthritic pain.
For topical use:
- Mix equal amounts of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and lukewarm water in a small tub. Soak your hands in this solution for 30 minutes. Do it twice daily to notice an improvement in the pain and swelling.
- You can also mix together 1 tablespoon each of organic apple cider vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. Use it to massage the affected joints a few times daily. You can rinse the mixture off your hands after 15 or 20 minutes.
For internal use:
- Mix 1 teaspoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar into a glass of warm water and add a little raw honey. Drink it twice daily.
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb that can help deal with pain and inflammation related to osteoarthritis in the hands. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that curcumin inhibits a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation (4).
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food reports that curcumin can be a therapeutic agent for relieving arthritis (5).
For topical use:
- Mix a little olive oil and ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder to form a paste. Apply it on the affected area and cover it with a bandage for a couple of hours. Do it 2 or 3 times daily for several days.
For internal use:
- Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric into a glass of warm milk. Drink it twice daily to ease inflammation.
- Alternatively, you can take curcumin capsules, after consulting your doctor for the proper dosage.
When it comes to fighting pain and inflammation due to osteoarthritis, ginger is very effective. It helps block COX-2, a chemical in the body that causes pain.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food reports that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level. This makes it an effective treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases (6).
- For internal use: Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily. To make the tea, grate a small piece of ginger root and boil it in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Strain it and add a little raw honey.
- For topical use: Massage your hand with ginger oil a few times daily.
7. Green Tea
Green tea has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help reduce joint pain and swelling, common symptoms of osteoarthritis. Moreover, green tea helps maintain bone density and strength.
A 2011 study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy reports that green tea helps prevent as well as control symptoms of osteoarthritis (7).
- Add 1 teaspoon of green tea leaves to a cup of hot water.
- Cover and let it steep for a few minutes.
- Strain it and add a little raw honey.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea daily.
8. Capsaicin Cream
To deal with any kind of arthritic pain, capsaicin cream is very effective.
The compound capsaicin has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that help get rid of the pain and treat arthritis.
For topical use:
- Apply capsaicin cream on the affected area and massage gently for 1 minute. Do it twice daily. Leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes before rinsing it off.
- Alternatively, you can make a capsaicin cream by mixing 2 or 3 sprinkles of cayenne pepper into 2 to 3 teaspoons of olive oil. Apply it on your hands 2 or 3 times a day.
9. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses is good for your joint and muscle health, and it can play a key role in preventing any kind of arthritis.
It contains calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins, which are all nutrients the body needs to help fight pain and inflammation.
Blackstrap molasses also supports a proper acid-alkaline balance in the body. This is extremely beneficial for bone and joint health.
- Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses into a cup of warm water or milk.
- Drink it twice daily.
10. Dietary Changes
The right food can cure different diseases and arthritis in the hands is not an exception. Several foods can help fight pain and inflammation.
The right nutrition will also support healing or help slow down the progression of disease.
When suffering from arthritis, your body needs certain nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D and folate.
To get these nutrients, eat foods like kale, milk, cheese, sardines, lentils, almonds, quinoa, black beans, brown rice, tofu, dark chocolate, avocados, strawberries, kiwi fruit, red peppers, papaya, broccoli, vitamin D-fortified milk, cereal, salmon and tuna.
In addition to nutritious foods, a healthy diet includes plenty of liquids. Dehydration can worsen arthritic pain.
Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and processed foods, as well as keeping coffee and sodas to a minimum.
- Extra body weight can promote pain and degeneration of joints, so take steps to lose weight if needed.
- Exercise daily to keep the joints mobile and active.
- To reduce swelling, elevate your hands so that they are above the level of your heart.
- Acupuncture treatments can help relieve joint pain.
- Quit smoking as toxins in tobacco can cause stress on the connective tissue, leading to more joint problems.
- Use relaxation therapy like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and listening to soothing music to help ease pain.
- Avoid activities that require constant hand movement.
- Use splints on your wrist, thumb or fingers for support.
- Try to avoid any injury when playing sports or participating in recreational activities.
- If your job requires a lot of pushing, pulling or lifting of heavy objects, take precautions to avoid injuring your joints.
- If your job calls for a lot of typing, be sure to practice good posture and ergonomics. Also, take breaks to give your hands a rest.
- Prevalence, incidence and progression of hand osteoarthritis in the general population: the Framingham Osteoarthritis Study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3867970/. Published September 2011.
- Prevalence of Symptomatic Hand Osteoarthritis and Its Impact on Functional Status among the Elderly: The Framingham Study | American Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/156/11/1021/80530. Published December 01, 2002.
- Study Determines Optimal Dose of Massage for Osteoarthritis of the Knee Pain Research. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/020812.htm. Published September 24, 2017.
- Safety and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Curcumin: A Component of Tumeric (Curcuma longa). A Definition for Wildness | Ecopsychology. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/107555303321223035.
- Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Journal of Medicinal Food. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003001/. Published August 01, 2016.
- Ginger-An Herbal Medicinal Product with Broad Anti-Inflammatory Actions. A Definition for Wildness | Ecopsychology. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2005.8.125.
- Green tea: a new option for the prevention or control of osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research and Therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3239363/. Published 2011.