Arthritis In the Hands and How to Treat it

Arthritis In the Hands and How to Treat it


The hallmark of arthritis is joint inflammation. This can be caused by degeneration of the joint or an autoimmune disorder. Both forms of arthritis may cause problems within the affected joint including swelling, stiffness, trouble moving, decreased strength, pain, and deformities (AOTA, 2012).

There are four stages of arthritis: minor, mild, moderate, and severe. The stages are a progression of joint degradation- minor wear and tear, bone spur growths, erosion, and complete cartilage loss (Orthopedic Specialty Group, 2016).

How does Arthritis Impact Function? 

Arthritis of the hand can result in loss of hand strength and function. This can impact everyday activities such as writing, opening containers, and manipulating small objects. Research has demonstrated that persons with an arthritic condition that don’t seek treatment self-report decline in their ability to perform routine tasks (Nunes et. al., 2012).


What Can You Do?

Hand therapy performed by occupational and physical therapists helps individuals with arthritis to minimize the impacts of the condition on everyday activities and routines.

Techniques Used:

  • Therapeutic massage
  • Gentle stretching
  • Gentle strengthening
  • Fine motor exercises
  • Moist heat
  • Paraffin
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Activity modifications
  • Energy conservation
  • Joint Preservation
  • Fluidotherapy
  • Cryotherapy


Hand therapists may also fabricate custom splints to assist in optimal joint positioning to minimize the impact of the disorder.

It is critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of arthritis as early as possible to avoid further joint decay. If you experience any of the associated signs or symptoms, seek advice from an orthopedic surgeon or call one of our Certified Hand Specialists to determine what treatment is right for you.

Written by Kristen Yong, OTS, Edited by Michelle Barber, OTR/L, CHT

American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) (2012). Living with arthritis [PDF file]. Retrieved from
Nunes, P. M., Guimaraes de Oliveira, D., Aruin, A. S., and Jose dos Santos, M. (2012). Relationship between hand function and grip force control in women with hand osteoarthritis. JRRD, 49, 855-866.
Orthropaedic Specialty Group (2016). The 4 stages of osteoarthritis. Retrieved from



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