DIY Hand Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

You use your hands for lots of things—cooking, cleaning, reading—and when you’re in pain, it can be difficult to get things done. Learn about treatments you can do right in the comfort of your own home.

Health Monitor Staff
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Minnesota-based Margot Miller, PT, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, explains some of the treatments people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) receive to regain their flexibility and strength in their hands—ones you can do at home yourself! Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider before trying them, or get instruction from a physical therapist (PT) who specializes in hand rehab.

Start with warm hands. PTs typically apply moist heat to loosen and relax the fingers and joints before having patients begin hand exercises. The homemade version: Just soak your hand in warm water, or wrap it in a heated towel.

Increase mobility with these exercises. One caution: You might feel stretching or pulling, but you should not have pain.

• Make an “OK” circle with each finger starting with your thumb and pointer finger and working your way to your pinky. Do five times then rest, working up to 10.
• Place your hand on a table, spread your fingers wide, and then relax your hand. Next, move each finger gently to one side and then back five times.
• Use your thumb and forefinger to pick up objects, starting with larger items such as a block or clothespin before moving on to smaller objects like a coin. Begin with five objects and work up to 10, picking each one up three to 10 times.

Give your hands some TLC. PTs also massage their patients’ fingers, wrists and hands to relieve pain and increase circulation. If both your hands are too stiff or inflamed to perform a self-massage, ask your healthcare provider if it’s safe for you to have a paraffin treatment at a local nail salon. (If you’re having a flare-up or have open cuts or sores on your hands, she’ll advise you to skip the treatment.) If she says it’s okay, you’re in for a treat: The manicurist will pamper your hands by dipping them in heated wax to allow a “glove” to form that’ll lock in moisture. Then she’ll wrap your hands in plastic and let you enjoy the soothing heat for 20 minutes or so.

April 2013