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Hand and Finger Rheumatoid Arthritis


What's the treatment for RA in the hand and finger ?

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is a multifaceted regimen that includes:

  • Medications
  • Rest and exercise
  • Splints and special arthritis aids that help take pressure off painful joints
  • Self-managing stress
  • Dietary changes, such as eliminating foods that may trigger inflammation and including foods that may help decrease inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, vitamin D, and flax oil
  • Regular medical checkups
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery to help restore function


Which medications are used to treat hand and finger RA?

Medications commonly prescribed for RA include:

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs are used with NSAIDs and /or corticosteroids in low doses. DMARDs include:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs may be over-the-counter or prescription strength.

Biologic response modifiers (also in the category of DMARDs); these are usually used with methotrexate. Biologic agents include:

What are some tips to relieve hand and finger joint pain?

Regular exercise is extremely important to increase flexibility in the hands and fingers. It's also important to rest the painful joints. Hand or finger splints may help ease pressure during painful flares. In addition, arthritis aids and devices can help make daily living skills easier so you can avoid pain and injury. Here are some easy tips:

  • To exercise your hands and fingers, you can use a soft foam ball like a Nerf ball (not a hard tennis ball). This helps to increase dexterity and reduce stiffness.
  • To protect your hands from injury, use the largest joints possible to share the load in any activity you do. Avoid favoring a particular finger or position with the hands.
  • Seek help from an occupational therapist with arthritis aids and devices. These are available at most medical supply stores, pharmacies, and on the Internet.
  • Use hook and loop fasteners to replace buttons on clothing.
  • Add accessories to doorknobs for easier turning.
  • Use rotary 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 without bending over and stretching your hands.
  • Use lightweight household utensils, pots, and pans.
  • Use lightweight plastic cups and dishes instead of heavy china.
  • Try foam padding around your pen or pencil; these are available at most office supply stores.


Can moist heat or ice help RA pain?

Moist heat and ice are both effective in easy RA pain and stiffness.

Try using warm, moist compresses on your arthritic fingers and hands for 15 minutes before you exercise. Moist heat dilates blood vessels and increases the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the painful site.  

You may use a moist heating pad, a warm, damp towel, or a hydrocollator pack. You can also place your hands in a moist heat bath or try a warm paraffin (wax) bath. It may help your stiffness to use the moist heat for a few minutes after exercising.

Some patients with RA prefer ice packs, which reduce swelling and pain by constricting blood vessels. You might try a bag of frozen vegetables or ice wrapped in a clean towel. Apply this to the painful joint for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

Alternating moist heat applications with ice packs may bring optimal relief. The most important thing is to find the pain-relieving therapy that works best for you. Then, make it part of your daily ritual to use the moist heat and/or ice packs before and after exercise.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on February 10, 2014
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