Exercises for Easing Hand Arthritis Pain
Fingers and hands have many small joints that need to work together fluidly to allow everything from writing and tying your shoes to playing the piano.
Repetitive motions over time can cause “wear and tear” on the ligaments and joints of the hand, leading to the development arthritis. Finger joints may become swollen, stiff, and painful, making every day tasks difficult. Engaging in simple hand exercises can help alleviate pain and restore mobility.
While we associate arthritic hands with age, symptoms can begin in your 40s. Fractures, dislocations and repetitive motions or overuse are common causes.
In healthy joints, bones have a slippery tissue called cartilage that covers the ends of the bones where the joints meet, allowing them to move smoothly. The cartilage is lubricated by synovial fluid. When the cartilage breaks down and wears away, the bones rub together and the synovial becomes sticky, causing pain and swelling. Arthritis can develop in any of the 27 bones of the hand, but is most common in the base of the thumb and the joint closest to the fingertips.
To cope with the pain, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication. Exercises for the hands can also help strengthen the muscles that support the joints, keep ligaments and tendons flexible and increase the production of synovial fluid.
Yoga for Arthritic Hands
Individuals with hand arthritis may need to make modifications in weight-bearing poses such as Downward Facing Dog. For example, using a foam wedge under the hands can reduce the pressure on fingers and wrists. Another option is to make fists or rest the forearms on the floor.
You can also do yoga poses specifically designed to increase mobility and ease any stiffness and pain in your hands. Here are five (5) to get you started:
Start by holding your hands out in front of you, palms open. Then begin to slowly circle the wrists. Allow the fingers to move in any way to encourage circulation in the whole hand. Breath easily as your circle the hands and wrists 3-5 times. Be sure to circle in the reverse direction 3-5 times. Pause when you are done with your hands in your lap and notice any sensations.
Bring palms together in front of your chest. Pressing into all the fingers, draw the heels of your hands apart 2-3 times. Next, press the heels and palms of your hands together as you separate the fingers. Repeat 1-2 more times, breathing easily and steadily.
With palms still pressed together, on an inhale separate just the thumbs. Exhaling, bring them back together. Do this with each set of fingers, separating index, middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Reverse the order, beginning with your pinkie finger and ending with the thumbs. This exercise is good for your brain, too!
Duck Foot, Bear Claw, Bird Beak, Paw
Next, with arms extended, spread your fingers wide on an inhale, imagining webbing between the fingers like a duck’s foot. As you exhale, bend the fingers slightly like a bear’s claw. Then bring the fingertips and thumb together as if forming a bird’s beak as you inhale. Finally, exhale making a fist, thumb on the outside. Repeat these movements in sequence several times. Move slowly and with awareness.
Now imagine you have a piano keyboard in front of you. Wiggle all the fingers as if you were playing a very fast piece of music. Then shake out your hands. Allow them to rest in your lap for a few breaths, noticing how they feel.
Doing these exercises regularly can help bring circulation to the hand joints and ease the stiffness and discomfort that accompanies arthritis.
original 5/15/20; updated 4/20/23