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When RA Affects Your Hands and Fingers

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Can moist heat or ice help RA pain?

Both of these simple methods can ease RA pain and stiffness.

Use a warm, moist compress (or towel or heating pad) on your fingers and hands for 15 minutes before you exercise.

To reduce swelling, use ice packs or even a bag of frozen peas.  Put it on the painful joint for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

You may want to switch between moist heat and ice packs. Experiment to find out what works best for you, and then make it part of your routine before and after exercise.

What is a swan-neck deformity?

This happens when the base of the finger and the outermost joint bend, while the middle joint straightens. Over time, this imbalance of the finger joints can result in the crooked “swan-neck” position. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause it.

A swan-neck deformity can make it almost impossible to bend the affected finger normally. It can make it hard to button shirts, grip a glass, or pinch with the fingers.

A rheumatologist can see if you have it. Treatment may include:

  • Finger splints or ring splints
  • Surgery to realign the joints or fuse the joints so they work better 

What is a boutonniere deformity?

Boutonniere deformity, also called buttonhole deformity, can happen due to rheumatoid arthritis.

The middle finger joint will bend toward the palm while the outer finger joint may bend opposite the palm. It may be the result of chronic inflammation of the finger's middle joint.

Treatment may include splinting to keep the middle joint extended. Some cases need surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on February 10, 2014
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