For many Americans over 65, the threat of arthritis—and its related conditions—is a near-constant concern. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost half of Americans age 65 and over had some form of arthritis. The prevalence of arthritis is likely to increase as the U.S. population continues to age. However, a few simple exercises can help keep arthritic hands agile and powerful.
“Arthritis” is an informal term; it describes different conditions that cause joint pain or disorder. Metabolic arthritis can cause diseases such as gout. Rheumatoid arthritis can provoke the immune system to attack the body, causing inflammation in the joints of the hands, wrists, knees, and hips. But the most common form of this disease is osteoarthritis.
This degenerative form of arthritis leads to a chronic breakdown of cartilage, resulting in swelling and pain as the bones of a joint rub together. Osteoarthritis can create discomfort in any joint. But the loss of mobility caused by the pain of arthritis means the joints in the hand are at particular risk. Losing the use of one’s hands can have a profound effect on quality of life.
Treating Arthritic Hands
The good news is there are ways to manage the pain brought on by different forms of arthritis. Medications, steroid treatments, and—in rare cases—surgery can ease damaged joints. But simple hand exercises are also a noninvasive way to maintain flexibility and strength.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis both affect synovial fluid, a lubricant that works in conjunction with cartilage. Osteoarthritis causes the fluid to lose its efficacy. Rheumatoid arthritis can induce an increase in fluid, creating both pain and swelling. Hand exercises can regulate this fluid in your joints as well as keep tendons and ligaments flexible.
Preparing for the Exercises
Before starting these exercises, consult a physician or physical therapist for your safety. Just before you start, place your hands in a bowl or sink of warm water. This routine will help reduce pain. Performing these exercises with your hands submerged in the water will further reduce strain on the joints.
Certified hand therapist Monique Turenne advises people to attempt these exercises cautiously. Perform 1 repetition per day, and increase to 10 a day as the joint gets stronger.
Hand Exercises for Arthritis
Exercise #1: Joint Blocking
Lay the hand palm side up on a flat surface. With the opposite hand, hold the middle section of the affected finger below the joint, near the fingertip. Bend the finger at that joint while keeping the rest of the finger straight, and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat for each finger as necessary, bending only the joint below the middle part of the finger.
Exercise #2: Wrist Bend
Stretch out the arm, pointing the fingers forward. Slowly bend the wrist backward (toward the ceiling), and then forward (toward the floor).
Exercise #3: Finger Touch
Open the hand flat. Place the tip of the thumb on the pad of the pinkie. Hold for 5 seconds before repeating the process on the pointer finger. Then continue pressing the thumb to the pad of each finger, moving back toward the pinkie.
Exercise #4: Make a Fist
Place the palm face up and slowly make a loose fist, keeping the thumb on the outside. Hold for 20 seconds, repeating the process on the opposite hand as necessary. Do not squeeze the fingers into the palm.
Exercise #5: Finger Lifts
Place the hand palm side down on a flat surface. Lift the thumb off the table slowly, and hold its position for 2 seconds. Return to the starting position, and repeat the process for each finger.
Exercise #6: Table Bend
Lay the pinkie-side edge of the hand on a flat surface with the thumb pointed up. Bend the other 4 fingers at the base joint, creating an “L” shape. Hold this position for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Exercise #7: Finger Stretch
With the hand laying palm down on a flat surface, place the other hand on top. The top hand should lay alongside the base joints of the fingers. Do not press down on the bottom hand, but hold it firm. Slowly lift up all 4 fingers, and hold for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Alternatively, you can lift each finger individually.
Exercise #8: Finger Spread
Hold the hand upright with the fingers pointed toward the ceiling. Spread the fingers away from each other as far as is comfortable. Hold for 5 seconds before returning to the starting position.
Exercise #9: Make a “C”
Hold the hand out flat, with the pinkie-side edge pointed down. Curl the fingers and thumb into the shape of a “C.”
Exercise #10: Finger Bend
Place the hand upright, with the finger pointed toward the ceiling. Bend the pointer finger at the base joint toward the palm. Keep the other joints straight, and hold for 2 seconds. Repeat the process with the other finger, and bend the thumb so it points forward.
The risks associated with arthritis are serious and may have a lasting impact on day-to-day life. But exercising the joints and muscles of vital extremities can go a long way in relieving symptoms. Other remedies, such as hot/cold treatments or splinting, may also work well alongside these exercises. Simply resting the affected joints can sometimes ease the pain of this condition. With the proper treatment and the help of exercises such as these, there is nothing to fear when it comes to arthritis.