7 Hand Exercises to Ease Arthritis Pain

Written by Stephanie Watson | Published on September 30, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 30, 2013

Improve the function of arthritic hands with these seven easy, anytime exercises.

Painful Hands

Arthritis wears away at the cartilage and synovial lining of a joint, which is the cushioning material between bones. When arthritis affects the joints of the hands, it can cause pain and stiffness. That pain can get worse whenever you use the hand a lot—for example, when typing on a computer keyboard or gripping utensils in the kitchen. You may also lose strength in your hands. Weakness in your hands can make it hard to do even the simplest everyday tasks, such as opening jars.

Treating Hand Arthritis

There are some medicinal options for treating hand arthritis. You can take pain-relieving medicines by mouth. There are also injections of steroid medicines to decrease swelling in the joints, and splinting to support and protect your hands. If these options don’t work, you may need to have surgery to fix the damaged joint.

As far as home treatments: one easy and noninvasive way to keep the joints flexible, improve range of motion, and relieve arthritis pain is by doing hand exercises.

Exercise #1: Make a Fist

hand making a fist

You can do this easy exercise anywhere, and any time your hand feels stiff. Start by holding your left hand up straight. Then, slowly bend your hand into a fist, placing your thumb on the outside of your hand. Be gentle—don’t squeeze your hand. Open your hand back up until your fingers are straight once again. Do the exercise 10 times with the left hand. Then repeat the whole sequence with the right hand.

Exercise #2: Finger Bends

finger bends

Start in the same position as in the last exercise, with your left hand held up straight. Bend your thumb down toward your palm. Hold it for a couple of seconds. Straighten your thumb back up. Then bend your index finger down toward your palm. Hold it for a couple of seconds. Then straighten it. Repeat with each finger on the left hand. Then repeat the entire sequence on the right hand.

Exercise #3: Thumb Bend

thumb bend

First, hold your left hand up straight. Then, bend your thumb inward toward your palm. Stretch for the bottom of your pinky finger with your thumb. If you can’t reach your pinky, don’t worry. Just stretch your thumb as far as you can. Hold the position for a second or two, and then return your thumb to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. Then do the exercise with your right hand.

Exercise #4: Make an “O”

hand making an o

Start with your left hand pointing straight up. Then, curve all of your fingers inward until they touch. Your fingers should form the shape of an “O.” Hold this position for a few seconds. Then straighten your fingers again. Repeat this exercise a few times a day on each hand. You can do this stretch whenever your hands feel achy or stiff.

Exercise #5: Table Bend

table bend

Place the pinky-side edge of your left hand on a table, with your thumb pointed up. Holding your thumb in the same position, bend the other four fingers inward until your hand makes an “L” shape. Hold it for a couple of seconds, and then straighten your fingers to move them back into the starting position. Repeat 10 times, and then do the same sequence on the right hand.

Exercise #6: Finger Lift

finger lift exercise

Place your left hand flat on a table, palm down. Starting with your thumb, lift each finger slowly off the table—one at a time. Hold each finger for a second or two, and then lower it. Do the same exercise with every finger of the left hand. After you’re done with the left hand, repeat the entire sequence on the right hand.

Exercise #7: Wrist Stretch

wrist stretch

Don’t forget about your wrists, which can also get sore and stiff from arthritis. To exercise your wrist, hold your right arm out with the palm facing down. With your left hand, gently press down on the right hand until you feel a stretch in your wrist and arm. Hold the position for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times. Then, do the entire sequence with the left hand.

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