Helping Hands

Rheumatoid arthritis is greedy: it takes your energy, your money, and when it strikes one joint, it usually starts in on the exact joint on the other side.

To make things tougher, RA usually begins to affect our hands and fingers first, which means almost every single task you do will put stress on the small joints of your hands. We’ve all probably seen the results of chronic stress to hands with RA, fingers, and wrists that are deformed to the point of being barely functional.

The good news is that with all the new medications we now have specifically designed for RA, these deformities are becoming less common. The harder news is that, despite all of the new treatments we have available to us, our hands and fingers will still feel the strain and pain of RA every day.

Tips for RA hand swelling and pain

Over the years, I’ve learned some really good techniques and I’ve come up with some ideas on my own. Here are my favorites:

Strength training with finger exercises

Keeping the small joints of my fingers, and my wrists strong in the right places helps them to avoid what is called ulnar drift, or the tendency for inflamed, weak, fingers with RA to fall away from the body, literally “drift.”

So, when I’m idle sitting at a table, I’ll practice my “finger walking,” an easy exercise that helps fingers to stay strong. I put my hand flat on the table, palm down, and start “walking” my fingers toward my thumb. I laugh almost every time because it doesn’t take long before this becomes a Herculean effort. A little bit goes a long way for these small muscles.

Gadgets and tools for around the home

I’ve installed lever handles on the doors in my house so I don’t have to challenge my hands. Any kitchen gadget that will help me out, be it an electric can opener, a jar opener, or spoons with large handles for mixing make my time in the kitchen easier and less painful. In the shower, I re-fill my shampoo and conditioner containers into ones that have a push-down spout.

Every time I struggle with some household chore, I think about if there is any way to make it easier and if there is, I'll make that shift. I'll adapt how I do it to decrease the stress on my hands (like using larger joints when possible,) or, if there is something I can invest in, depending on the cost, I either save up for it or buy it straight away. I know by doing this I'm investing in my health and well-being.

Compression gloves and splints

When my fingers are swollen, I use compression gloves. I also have soft and rigid splints to use when I’m flaring. But even when I’m not flaring, I’ve found that putting a splint or brace on my hands when I’m doing something that is harder on them helps to support my smaller, more vulnerable joints.

Helping my hands to be as strong and functional as possible is a daily practice. I know that little things add up, and over time the less I push the limits of my hands, the better off I’ll be in the long run. Do you have any favorite ways to give your hands a break? Let us know!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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