If turning a doorknob or a key, opening a jar or gripping buttons, zippers or other clothes fasteners is painful—even unbearable—you’re probably coping with osteoarthritis (OA) in your hands.
The hands often bear the brunt of this “wear and tear” arthritis. The good news is, there are plenty of under-the-radar nondrug strategies that can ease the pain of hand arthritis.
Beyond the Pill Bottle
Many people don’t know about the approaches that follow because they’re not heavily advertised and few doctors talk about them. While the benefits may be temporary, these tactics can be used as often as desired—with no downsides. Among the best nondrug therapies to relieve hand OA…
• Arthritis gloves. Gentle compression from arthritis gloves, which are not the same as those used for burns or lymphedema, eases pain and lessens OA swelling. The gloves can be worn all day and night, if needed, for pain relief—even in the summer, since they are lightweight. Good products…
Norco Compression Gloves. A soft, nylon-and-spandex blend, these gloves are sold individually for left and right hands and come in two fingertip styles (full-finger and tipless for easy smartphone use) and wrist lengths. A built-in wrist slit makes them easy to slide on, and they’re sold in three sizes. The soft compression gets raves from patients who’ve tried them for symptom relief. Cost: $9.95 each.
IMAK Compression Arthritis Gloves (pictured above). Endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation, these mostly cotton, part spandex gloves are breathable, flexible and have open fingertips. Sold in three sizes. Cost: About $20 a pair.
• Splints and braces. These devices, known as orthotics, provide more structure than arthritis gloves and can stabilize the entire hand or just individual knuckles…and are particularly useful for arthritis affecting the base of the thumb. Good product…
Comfort Cool Thumb CMC Restriction Splint. This splint supports the arthritic thumb while offering flexibility and freedom for the fingers. It’s made of spongy, thin neoprene and lined with terry cloth for softness against the hand and wrist. Since it’s pliable, it can be trimmed if desired. It should be worn during the day when performing activities that increase pain. Cost: About $26.
• Paraffin baths. Paraffin baths are an easy way to get moist heat deeply into the soft tissues of the hand and joints. Paraffin should be heated to 120°F to 130°F. After dipping your hand(s) in warm paraffin, wrap the hand in a plastic bag and place in an oven mitt or towel, keeping it still for 15 to 20 minutes. The paraffin then peels off easily. Paraffin gives immediate relief that lasts about two hours. Good products…
GiGi Digital Paraffin Bath. A somewhat pricey but highly effective option, the GiGi has a quick-melt feature with an easily adjustable digital temperature control. The oversized steel tank also has a see-through and spill-resistant lid. Cost: About $128 (including six pounds of paraffin).
HoMedics ParaSpa Paraffin Bath. This lower-priced product has a light to let you know when the wax is ready for use, along with a locking safety lid. You can monitor the temperature with a meat or candy thermometer. Cost: $39.99 (including three pounds of paraffin).
• Topical pain relievers. To avoid the potential side effects, such as upset stomach and stomach ulcers, of oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), many doctors recommend topical treatments for hand OA—especially capsaicin cream, which uses the key ingredient in chili peppers to help block pain messages to nerves. Over-the-counter arnica and Biofreeze are other good topical products. Ask your doctor for advice.
• Hand therapy. Hand therapists are specially trained to teach strategies that will enable you to use your hands with less achiness and stiffness. The therapy usually involves four visits, including evaluation of self-care, management of assistive devices, orthotic fabrication and management, and instruction in a home exercise program. Many health insurers cover hand therapy. To find a qualified hand therapist near you, consult the Hand Therapy Certification Commission website at HTCC.org.