How to Treat Arthritis in a Finger Joint

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There are different types of finger arthritis, including distal interphalangeal (DIP), osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. All can cause severe inflammation and pain because the cartilage has worn down between the finger bones. According to the article "A Patient's Guide to Arthritis of the Finger Joints" by Handuniversity.com, a reputable resource run by orthopedic doctors, "pain usually only causes problems when you begin an activity. Once the activity gets underway, the pain eases." Treatment usually includes a combination of rest, ice, heat, medication, and exercise.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice pack
  • Ibuprofen (e.g., Advil or Motrin)
  • Heating pad
  • Finger splint
  • Limit the use of your finger for a few days. Use a finger splint to relax your joint. Take two ibuprofen pills every 4 to 6 hours until your inflammation and pain are gone. Elevate your finger above your heart as often as possible to reduce swelling and pain.

  • Apply an ice pack directly to your finger so that it is compressed against the source of pain. Keep the ice pack in place for 15 or 20 minutes. Repeat the ice treatment about every 3 to 4 hours for the first 48 to 72 hours or until your inflammation has subsided.

  • When your inflammation has subsided, apply heat or use a heating pad several times per day to promote blood flow to the finger.

  • When your inflammation is under control, slowly bend the end and middle joints of your fingers while keeping your knuckles and wrist straight. Straighten them back up. Repeat 10 times.

Tips & Warnings

  • During the first few days, you need to get your inflammation under control so that there is less friction in the finger joint. Ice causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), which temporarily limits the flow of blood and lymph to the finger. It is important to limit blood flow initially because it causes inflammation and swelling. After that, use heat to start promoting blood flow to the area. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients (vitamin C) that are necessary for healing. Massaging your finger can also help promote blood flow to your finger joint. It will help calm the nerves and muscles in your finger. Use gentle strokes and lightly squeeze your affected joint for several minutes. Repeat this procedure several times per day. Also, in addition to stretching your fingers, squeeze a tennis or rubber ball several times per day. This will help build strength in your arthritic finger as well as add stability to the joint. (For more information on massage and exercising, see references 2 and 3 below.)
  • Do not start exercising too soon after the onset of arthritis. This will aggravate your condition rather than help it. Also, never apply ice directly to your finger, because direct contact with the skin can cause frost bite. Always use an ice pack or towel for holding the ice.

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