9 Treatments for Arthritis of the Hands

by Chris Regal Editor

Osteoarthritis in the hands is the most common form of the condition. In fact, symptoms occur in nearly all women over the age of 70. It develops when the cartilage in the fingers and hand joints begins to break down, causing pain, inflammation and stiffness in the joints, particularly in the thumb. Aching hands can be severely detrimental to quality of life, costing some jobs or hobbies. Here are nine options to help treat arthritis in your hands.

Hand arthritis gloves

You are likely to experience pain in your hands when they are cold. When your hands are frigid, your joints are stiff and painful. So, in an effort to keep the hands warm, consider using hand arthritis gloves. This simple, cheap item can be extremely effective in soothing aching hands.

Paraffin wax units

Similar to gloves for hand arthritis, paraffin wax units are another option for people with stiff, achy joints. These are often found in salons, but certainly can be used at home. Warm wax can help provide a bath for pained hands, and the heat alone can help relieve some pain.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Anti-inflammatory medications can come over-the-counter or in prescription form. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include aspirin, Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Actron and Orudis. Prescription strength NSAIDs include Ansaid, Voltaren, Cataflam, Relafen and Mobic, among many others.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Diet and nutrition are as important (if not more so) than medication when discussing arthritis pain. Arthritis sufferers may want to try avoiding red meat, processed foods, sugar, nightshades, gluten, flavor enhancers and lactose to see if pain levels decrease. Patients need to stay properly hydrated, opt for plenty of fruit and vegetables, and maximize small, cold-water fish in their diets.

Topical anti-inflammatory medications

Some anti-inflammatory medication can be applied directly to the joint through a cream. This can serve as a first-line therapy for osteoarthritis, including the hands. When compared to oral medications and placebo tests, the topical creams proved effective in treating joint pain and stiffness. The most common topical applicants are Voltaren Gel and Diclofenac sodium, both available by prescription only.

Physical therapy

From Dr. Christina Lasich: "Once the hands become painful and disabled, a trip to a hand therapist can be extremely valuable to regain function. A hand therapist can help you improve strength, dexterity and flexibility. Within a short period of time, you can learn some self-management techniques for relieving hand pain, while maintaining your ability to work and play."


In extreme cases of knee or hip arthritis, a joint-replacement surgery may be in order. These are major, load-bearing joints that are extremely painful and are required to carry a heavy workload every day. For hand arthritis, replacing the joints is extremely rare. Arthroscopic surgery can be used to clean out some of the bone and cartilage fragments from the joint. This should not be considered a first-line measure.

Corticosteroid injections

Corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammation in a joint when the patient requires more intense treatment than oral or topical medications can provide. The steroid is injected directly into the joint. However, keep in mind that receiving too many injections can begin to cause damage to the joint. As a cheaper option than other lubricating injections, many doctors consider corticosteroids for more severe arthritis.

Lubricating injections

A doctor may recommend injecting medication directly into the affected joint in order to help lubricate it. As osteoarthritis is the product of wear-and-tear on the joint and breakdown of the cushioning within the joint, injecting this lubricant can help limit pain and stiffness. Synvisc is the most popular of the lubricant injections, though its effectiveness has recently been called into question.

Chris Regal
Meet Our Writer
Chris Regal

Christopher Regal is a former Web Producer for a variety of conditions on HealthCentral.com, including osteoarthritis, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, Migraine, and prostate health. He edited, wrote, and managed writers for the website. He joined HealthCentral in November 2009 after time spent working for a political news organization. Chris is a graduate of the Catholic University of America and is a native of Albany, New York.