Managing Osteoarthritis in Hands: Effective Treatment Options

Osteoarthritis is a widespread type of arthritis that impacts the joints in the limbs, leading to discomfort, stiffness, and swelling. This condition occurs due to the deterioration of the cartilage in the joints, which results in bone-on-bone friction.

Although osteoarthritis is commonly associated with older adults, it can also occur in younger individuals who engage in repetitive activities or sustain hand injuries that affect the joints. The hands are especially susceptible to this condition, affecting people of all ages.

Fortunately, hand therapy is highly effective in managing osteoarthritis in the hands. This form of therapy typically involves various exercises and stretches that improve flexibility, reduce pain, and boost grip strength. Additionally, hand therapists may provide splints and braces to support the affected joints and alleviate stress.

That said, several treatment options for osteoarthritis in the hands. So, let’s begin by discussing the non-pharmacological treatment options.

Non-Pharmacological Treatment Options

Non-pharmacological treatment options are important for managing various medical conditions, including musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis. In this response, I will elaborate on non-pharmacological treatment options for such conditions.

  • Hand Exercises and Physical Therapy

Hand exercises and physical therapy are often recommended for individuals with hand and wrist conditions. These exercises can help improve joint flexibility, reduce pain, and increase grip strength. Physical therapy may include manual therapy, massage, or ultrasound therapy, which can also help relieve pain and improve mobility.

  • Splinting and Bracing

Splinting and bracing can support and stabilize joints that are affected by injury or arthritis. Splints and braces can help reduce pain and inflammation, improve joint alignment, and prevent further damage. They can also be custom-made to fit an individual’s specific needs.

  • Heat and Cold Therapy

Heat therapy reduces stiffness and increases blood circulation in the affected area. Heat can be applied in various ways, such as with a hot water bottle, heating pad, or warm compress. 

Cold therapy also helps reduce inflammation and pain by constricting blood vessels and increasing blood circulation in the afflicted area. Cold therapy involves ice packs, cold compresses, or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel.

  • Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can help individuals with hand, and wrist conditions learn how to perform daily activities with minimal pain and discomfort. Occupational therapists can guide ergonomics, adaptive equipment, and exercises during work or leisure activities. They can also help individuals manage their condition and prevent further injury.

Pharmacological Treatment Options

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are effective enough to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands. NSAIDs reduce inflammation and pain and are usually taken orally or applied topically. Some commonly used NSAIDs for treating osteoarthritis in the hands include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen sodium (Aleve), celecoxib (Celebrex), diflunisal, etodolac, fenoprofen (Nalfon), flurbiprofen, indomethacin (Indocin), ketoprofen, and ketorolac.

  • Topical Creams and Gels

Topical creams and gels are a form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are applied directly to the skin to relieve osteoarthritis pain in the hands. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the FDA has approved several topical products, such as Voltaren and Solaraze, that contain the prescription NSAID diclofenac for osteoarthritis.

  • Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs treat inflammatory arthritis types, including rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. DMARDs help reduce inflammation and pain and can slow down the progression of the disease. These medications can also help preserve joints and other tissue from permanent damage in the case of osteoarthritis in the hands. Common DMARDs used to treat osteoarthritis in hands include methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine.

  • Corticosteroid Injections

Corticosteroid injections are a common treatment for osteoarthritis in the hands. These injections contain a synthetic version of the hormone cortisol, naturally produced by the adrenal gland. 

Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation in the joints, which can relieve pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. They can also slow down the disease’s progression by reducing cartilage breakdown between the joints.

Now, let’s discuss the surgical treatment options for osteoarthritis in the hands.

Surgical Treatment Options

  • Joint Fusion

Joint fusion (arthrodesis) is a surgical procedure that can alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with hand osteoarthritis. 

During the joint fusion procedure, the surgeon removes the damaged cartilage from the affected joint and then fuses the bones using screws, plates, or other devices. It creates a solid, stable joint, reducing pain and inflammation.

  • Joint Replacement

Joint replacement surgery can be a viable option for people suffering from osteoarthritis in their hands. During the procedure, the damaged joint is replaced with an artificial joint made of plastic or metal. It helps improve flexibility and mobility, allowing patients to resume their daily activities without experiencing discomfort.

  • Arthroscopic Debridement

Arthroscopic debridement is a minimally invasive procedure that helps treat osteoarthritis in the hands. It involves making small incisions in the affected joint and using a camera to identify it. 

The surgeon removes debris and irritants from the joint to reduce pain and inflammation. This procedure is commonly used for knees and shoulders but can also be used for hands.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture stimulates specific regions of the body using thin, sterile needles. These needles are inserted into the skin at specific points where they can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. In the case of osteoarthritis in the hands, the needles are placed on the hands, wrists, and arms.

Acupuncture reduces pain and stiffness in the hands and helps improve mobility and functionality. It also increases the blood flow to the affected areas. The procedure is effective enough to reduce stress levels, which can otherwise exacerbate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands.

  • Deep Breathing And Yoga

Deep breathing and yoga are effective in treating this condition. Deep breathing exercises help to increase the oxygen flow to the hands, which helps to reduce inflammation and pain. Additionally, yoga postures help to improve flexibility and range of motion in the hands, which can help alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms. 

  • Tai Chi And Meditation

Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art involving slow, graceful movements and deep breathing. It has been proven to improve balance, flexibility, and strength, which can help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hands.

A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology revealed that Tai Chi could improve grip strength and hand function and reduce pain in people with hand osteoarthritis. Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that meditation can reduce pain and improve grip strength in people with hand osteoarthritis.


Osteoarthritis is a common joint that can affect the hands, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Several effective treatment options for managing osteoarthritis in the hands include medication, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and surgery.

Surgery is usually considered a last resort when other treatment options are ineffective. Surgical options may include joint replacement or fusion, which can help reduce pain and improve joint function.

Early intervention is critical for managing osteoarthritis in the hands. It’s essential to develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient based on their symptoms, severity of the condition, and overall health status.

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