Relief for RA Hands

Patient Expert
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Forty years ago, I awoke to discover that overnight, someone had replaced my fingers with sausages! I had pain and swelling in my hands. When I tried to use them, it felt as if I had elastics tightly wound around my fingers, which were then topped with thick mittens. And so it began — rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had moved into my life.

While the following tips won't mask your RA hands, they can help bring you some applause-worthy relief.


Rest those hands

Thankfully, my resting splints are nothing like the ones a colleague's mother used in the 1970s. Apparently, she broke her husband's nose with one when she rolled over in bed. An occupational therapist made mine from a light-weight material called hexalite.

If you don't have resting splints, tightly roll up a hand towel. Then, while you're resting, watching television, or enjoying the sunset, you can drape your hands over the towel, so that your wrists are in a relaxed and supported position.


'You're soaking in it, Madge!'

You may not be old enough to remember the Palmolive commercial, but you must remember to soak those hands in contrast baths when they are inflamed. A contrast bath is where you alternate soaking your hands in hot water (be careful!) and cold water. The theory is that the change in temperatures will help with circulation. If you're into multitasking, do your dishes at the same time. Fill one sink with hot soapy water and the other with cold water for rinsing.

You can also alternate hot and cold packs.


Roller ball massager

A roller ball massager is a must-have, not only for your hands, but for tight spots throughout your body. With RA, you'll find lots of them. A tennis ball will work, but the roller ball massager is much easier to hold onto. Roll it along your palm for relief. Your forearms need some TLC, too. Remember that it's all connected. The hip bone’s connected to the knee bone...


Shiatsu acupressure ring

An acupressure ring looks like a miniature slinky. Slip the stretchy ring on your finger and move it up and down several times. Then, move to the next one. It stimulates the acupuncture meridians to help with circulation and pain relief.



If you're getting a massage, ask the massage therapist to spend some time working on your hands. Remember to let them know how much pressure to use. I once had a therapist gently tug downward on my fingers at about a 20- to 30-degree angle. She explained that she was creating a little bit of joint space. Whatever she was doing, it certainly felt great.


A little bit of beauty goes a long way

If your hands are affected by RA, it can be difficult to look after your fingernails. While a manicure is not really considered therapeutic, it can help you feel better when you look at your nicely done nails. That alone is worth the cost of a manicure. If your budget is stretched, perhaps you can trade manicure services with a friend.


Oh, those handshakes!

I used to dread going to meetings because of the power handshake. While, I love a firm handshake, it does not love me. The solution is to wear a splint on my right hand. It provides a visual cue to the person I'm meeting. This allows me to observe the etiquette of shaking hands, but without the excruciating pain that comes from a firm handshake, because the vision of the splint tells them to go easy on the shake.


Put your imagination to work for you

Lobster claws. A piston. A gradually opening flower. I've been experimenting with imagery to help me move more fluidly. To recover the strength in my thumb following surgery for a ruptured tendon, I see my thumb and index finger pinching together like a lobster claw. I open and close my hands and imagine a well-lubricated piston, or a flower that gradually opens and closes. Imagery techniques are not only fun to do, but they also help to make it a little easier to use my hands.


Know your limits

I usually get into trouble when I do more than my hands are capable of handling. I know what I can and can't do, but every once in awhile, I think I am Super Woman and can open that water bottle or perform some other feat of manual dexterity, all without the use of tools or gadgets. That's when I become Wonder Woman... I “wonder” what I was thinking...


Use tools and gadgets

Your hands can take a beating doing ordinary things that most people take for granted. One way I relieve my hands is to regularly use tools and gadgets. If I don't have something for a specific job, I often find that I can adapt the tools I already have, such as using an apple corer to make dijon-drizzled roasted potatoes. Or, using a surgical glove or a nutcracker to open a water bottle.