For many people living with rheumatoid arthritis, experiencing the loss of strength and flexibility in their fingers can be extremely challenging. This form of arthritis happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks joint tissues in the fingers, thumb, and/or wrist.
According to researchers:
- Hand dexterity, grip strength, and the ability to pinch objects between the thumb and fingers are likely to be affected by RA.
- Grip strength may be even weaker when RA inflammation levels are high.
- Problems with hand function tend to be the result of RA joint damage.
Despite this, RA patients may be able to gain relief by trying out a few hand exercises. The great thing about these exercises is that they don’t require any special equipment and are great for those who may not have much time to spend on exercises. Additionally, these exercises are beneficial for stopping any pain and stiffness you may be experiencing as well as improving your joint function.
“It’s a nice way to get a little strengthening going and lets patients sense what their level of activity might be,” explains certified hand therapist Alice Pena, PT, who is a former spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.
Hand Exercises for rheumatoid arthritis
Before you get started with the exercises, it is important to follow these tips to avoid injury or further causing yourself pain:
- If anything hurts, stop. These exercises can be repeated up to five times per session, once or twice a day. However, it is best to consult with your doctor or physical therapist about which number of reps is best for you to avoid strains. If you are experiencing more pain than before, stop and notify your doctor.
- Moist heat is your friend. Moist heat helps ease the motion of hand exercises for rheumatoid arthritis, which can prevent you from experiencing any discomfort.
Tip: Try soaking your hands in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes before you begin. Another option is to treat your hands with a warm paraffin wax bath or wrap them in a towel that has been soaked in hot water. You may also consider making a fist, while taking a warm shower.
1. Increase Flexibility With Flat-Hand Finger Lifts
To start, place your hands flat with your palm facing down on a table or against a wall. Then, starting with your thumb, slowly raise each finger individually off the table. Hold each finger up for one or two seconds, and then gently lower it.
2. Increase Your Range of Motion by Making a Fist
With your fingers straight out, draw them together down into the center of your palm to make a loose fist. (Be sure to keep your thumb across your fingers and not tucked beneath them.) Hold this position for up to one minute, then open your hand slowly and repeat a few times on each hand.
3. Improve Your Grip by Walking Your Fingers
For this particular exercise, all you’ll need is a towel.
Begin by placing a hand towel or kitchen towel flat on a table. With one hand lightly cupped and supported by your