You need your hands to cook, clean, type, and do just about everything else.
But you probably don’t think much about how important manual dexterity is
unless you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or another type of arthritis that
attacks your hand and finger joints.
RA is a disease in which the body's immune system engages in friendly fire
against the joints. It often starts in your hands before spreading to the other
“The hands and the feet are usually hit first, and these are the joints that
are predominantly involved in everyone with RA,” says Eric Matteson, MD, a
professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Hand exercises can
help maintain range of motion, flexibility, and strength in your hands.
There is not a one-size-fits-all hand exercise prescription for people with
RA, but a rheumatologist, physical therapist, or occupational therapist can
help design a program especially for your hands. Here are seven hand exercises
your program may include.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 1: Start by holding your
hand upright and pointing your wrist, fingers, and thumb upward. This also
serves as the neutral starting position for many of the hand exercises that
follow.Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 2: Keep your wrist
straight in the neutral starting position and bend the base joints of your
fingers, which connect the fingers to the palm. Keep your middle and end joints
and your wrist straight. “This is already a big effort for people with RA,”
Matteson says. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat twice daily on each hand.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 3: Keep your wrist and
the base joints straight, and bend your middle and end joints of your fingers
toward your palm, one at a time. Hold each position for five seconds. Repeat on
all 10 fingers twice a day.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 4: Bend each finger from
the base joint downward using your other hand to move your fingers. Repeat this
movement using the second row of knuckles in your finger. Repeat this exercise
on the third row of joints in your fingers, closest to the fingertips. Hold for
10 seconds. Repeat on all 10 fingers twice a day.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 5: With your hand
straight and fingers pointing upward, bend your fingers downward so they are
touching your palm. Do not make a fist. Instead, your fingertips should be
touching the palm of your hand. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on both hands
twice a day.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 6: Starting with your
wrist, fingers, and thumb pointing upward, make an “O” by touching your index
finger to your thumb. Hold this for at least 5 and up to 20 seconds. Repeat two
to 10 times twice a day.
Hand Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No. 7: With your hands in
the neutral position and all of your knuckles straight, slowly and gently
spread your fingers as far apart as you can, like a fan opening up. From this
position, make a fist. Hold each position for five seconds. Repeat on both
hands twice a day.
“These hand exercises are really effective for stretching and maintaining
mobility in your hands if you have RA,” he says. “We don’t do these exercises
for strength because the strength that comes with good hand mobility in the
activities of daily living is quite satisfactory.”