Joint mobility is something that we easily take for granted until it’s gone.
And while the medical community puts a lot of emphasis of on the joint health of the knees, there are other often forgotten joints that can create even more challenges in your day-to-day life.
When arthritis begins to affect your hands, daily chores like cooking, gardening, and typing on a keyboard become a constant source of pain and annoyance.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a disease affecting the cartilage that connects two bones. It occurs when the top layer of cartilage deteriorates and the bones rub together, causing inflammation, joint stiffness, pain, limits to strength and mobility, and often, joint deformities.
Spurs can sometimes develop at the edges of the bone and small pieces of bone and cartilage can break off into the joint space, which increases pain and speeds up the rate of deterioration. The causes and risk factors of osteoarthritis (“arthritis”) are many and the condition often becomes worse over time.
Common causes include:
- Being overweight
- Old age
- Being female
- Joint injury
- Joints that are not properly formed
- A genetic defect in joint cartilage
- Stresses on joints caused by certain jobs and playing sports
There is no cure for arthritis as it is a degenerative disease. However, there are ways to relieve its symptoms and slow its progress.
- Moderate exercise
- Prescription and over-the-counter pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Tai chi and yoga
- Steroid injections
- Dietary supplements
You Are What You Eat
What you eat largely affects how well your body works and by extension, how you feel.
hat’s why western medicine is now acknowledging that certain foods can facilitate the development of arthritis and worsen its symptoms (3).
For example, dairy products seem to be a common culprit, as well as red meat and some fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, and citrus fruits).
There are potent anti-inflammatories found in nature that can ease arthritis pain and reduce general inflammation in the body. Some even work better than the medication you might be already be taking.
Stretch It Out
Arthritis treatment is most effective when approached from both inside and out.
In addition to monitoring diet and lifestyle, stretching exercises for the hands can be very effective in reducing pain and increasing joint mobility and strength (4).
To get the maximum effect, soak your hand in hot water for 10 minutes before performing these exercises to relax your muscles and tendons and get a deeper stretch. You can also run a bath of hot water and Epsom salts and perform the exercise underwater. The water will support he joint and minimize stress as well as provide some resistance to strengthen your muscles.
1. Thumb Bend
With the hand straight and fingers outstretched, bend your thumb in the direction of the palm of your hand and stretch as far as you can, reaching for the pinky. Hold for several seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
2. Make a Fist
This exercise is very effective when your hand joints are especially stiff. Spread out your fingers and slowly make a fist, keeping your thumb over your fingers. Relax your hand and open it slowly until your fingers are straight. Repeat 10 times.
3. Finger Lift
Place your hand flat on a table with the palm down. One at a time, raise each finger off the table and hold for a few seconds, then slowly release. Repeat as many times as is comfortable.
4. Make an “O”
Hold your hand at heart-height in front of your chest. Bring your fingers together to make an “O”. Your thumb and index finger should touch and there should be a visible circle of space inside your hand. Hold the position for several seconds and release. Repeat at least 3 times.
5. Finger Bends
Begin with your hand straight. Bend your thumb toward the palm of your hand and hold for several seconds. Release to its original position, then bend your index finger toward your palm, hold for several seconds, and release. Repeat with each finger.
6. Wrist Stretch
Your fingers and hand are connected to the rest of your body through your wrist. By stretching the wrist, you get a fuller range of motion than just the fingers and hands alone.
Extend your arm with the palm of your hand pointed downward. Placing the fingers of your other hand on those being stretched, gently push upwards and pull back, flexing the wrist. Hold for several seconds. Release and repeat 10 times.
You may also stretch the wrist in the other direction: place your opposite hand on the top of the hand being stretched. Gently push to bend the hand down. Hold for several seconds and release. Alternate stretches pointing up, then pointing down.
7. Table Bend
Place your hand on a table with the pinky-side edge hand touching it. Bring your thumb up and your fingers in to make a “thumbs up” sign, pressing your fingers into your palm. Hold for a few seconds and straighten your fingers. Repeat 10 times.
8. Fan and Fist
Begin with your hand in a neutral position with fingers straight. Slowly spread and stretch your fingers as far as is comfortable to form a fan. Hold for a few seconds, then contract your fingers to form a gentle fist. Hold for 5 seconds and release. Repeat twice a day.