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When RA Affects Your Hands and Fingers

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect any joint in your body, including those in your hands and fingers. You may have:

  • Hand pain, finger pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Hand joints and finger joints that are warm and tender to the touch
  • The same joints are affected on both sides of your body (both wrists, for instance)
  • Misshapen finger joints
  • Carpal tunnel symptoms such as numbness and tingling of the hands
  • Flu-like feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and stiffness that last for more than an hour when you wake up

Causes

Scientists don’t know what causes RA. It may be a mix of genes and other things, such as an infection.

Hormones may also play a role. For instance, RA is more common in women than in men. It tends to improve with pregnancy. But it may get worse after the baby is born.

What's the Treatment?

Your doctor will make a plan based on your needs, including:

  • Medications
  • Rest and exercise
  • Splints and special arthritis aids that take pressure off of painful joints
  • Managing stress
  • Avoiding foods that trigger inflammation
  • Eating foods that curb inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon or flax oil
  • Regular medical checkups
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery if damaged joints need it

There are different types of drugs for RA. You would take some of them for pain and others to slow or stop the disease. 

How can I ease hand and finger joint pain?

Regular exercise is very important to make your hands and fingers more flexible. You also need to rest painful joints. It helps to use hand or finger splints to ease pressure if your RA flares up.  

To exercise your hands and fingers, you can use a soft foam ball like a Nerf ball (not a hard tennis ball). Squeeze it and then relax your hand muscles.

Ask an occupational therapist about gadgets and devices that may help make everyday activities easier, at home or on the job. For instance:

  • Use hook and loop fasteners to replace buttons on clothing.
  • Add accessories to doorknobs for easier turning.
  • Use lamp switches that require just a touch to the lamp base rather than twisting a small knob switch.
  • Try a long-handled shoehorn to put on your shoes so you don’t have to bend over and stretch your hands.
  • Use lightweight household utensils, pots, pans, cups, and dishes.
  • Put foam padding around your pen or pencil. These are available at most office supply stores.
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