An estimated one in five adults will be diagnosed with arthritis. Most suffers notice pain in their hands, and joints when gripping objects. The pain may stay the same for years, or get progressively worse over time. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain that interferes with everyday activities, and limits mobility. It’s the leading cause of disability in America.
Osteoarthritis or OA is the most common type of arthritis. In OA, the cartilage or cushioning between the joints wears away causing the bones to rub against each other. Symptoms of OA are pain, stiffness and swelling in the hands and fingers. These symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe. Typically pain begins at the base the thumb, and in the joints of the fingers.
Rheumatoid arthritis or RA is an inflammatory disease where the immune system attacks the lining of the joint causing the tissues that support the joint to stretch becoming unstable and causing deformity. RA is a chronic systemic disease. Symptoms include pain, warmth, redness, swelling, and stiffness in the hands and feet.
Depending on the type and severity, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate and prevent some of the pain associated with your arthritis. Arthritis gloves can be used for gentle compression of inflamed joints, and to keep hands warm. Doing light to moderate finger exercises can maintain flexibility in your hands, and increase grip strength.
Although it is important to keep your hands moving you do not want to place added stress on the small joints in your hands. Arthritic joints cannot tolerate as much stress as healthy joints. Some principles of joint protection include avoiding a tight grip on objects, taking frequent rest breaks during activities, using both hands to lift an object. Protect joints from overuse by using large handled cooking utensils, comfort pens for writing, and using a jar opener or electric can opener.
Another treatment for easing arthritic pain is heat and cold treatments. Microwavable hot packs, warm baths or paraffin wax baths can be used to relax muscles and increase circulation. Cold packs and ice massage can be used for inflammation and to decrease swelling. Cold treatments would not be used for joint stiffness. The benefits of heat or cold treatments are only temporary but can provide that much needed relief to get through the day.
Splinting helps to support a painful joint, and correctly position a thumb or digit. Splints can be worn while performing everyday activities, or while sleeping. Soft neoprene splints are available at local drug stores or custom splints can be fitted for you. However, if a joint has too much pain or inflammation, these types of splints may not be the best choice because they allow for joint movement.
There are dozens of medications available with or without a prescription to treat the various forms of arthritis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Prescription doses can help curb joint inflammation. Acetaminophen is available without a prescription and is a commonly used pain reliever for people with arthritis. Narcotic pain relievers are available by prescription only and may be used to help with more severe pain, but they don’t relieve joint inflammation.
Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can treat many forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. Although effective, steroids can have many side effects, especially when taken as a pill and used long term. Often, doctors try to avoid these problems by injecting the steroid into the affected joint or trying other medications in combination to keep the dose of steroids as low as possible.
If your pain persists despite some home remedies, contact Florida Pain Medicine to determine if treatment can help you. Treatment can help provide specific exercises to maintain joint flexibility, increase hand strength, and decrease pain.