The process of osteoarthritis is complex. It affects bone, cartilage, soft tissue, and the connective tissue in your joints.

Osteoarthritis wears away the articular cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is the cushioning material between bones. This wearing away can cause swelling and irritation of the synovial lining, which produces the synovial fluid that helps protect and lubricate the joint.

When osteoarthritis affects the joints of your hands or fingers, it can cause:

The pain can get worse whenever you use your hand for repetitive tasks. For example, typing on a computer keyboard or gripping utensils in the kitchen can cause discomfort. You may also lose strength in your hands. This weakness can make it hard to do everyday tasks, such as opening jars.

Some medication options may help treat hand arthritis. For example, you can take oral pain-relieving medications.

You can also get steroid injections in your joints or splint your hands to give them support. If these options don’t work, surgery may help to reduce pain.

Home treatments can also help to reduce the pain and other symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hands and fingers.

Hand and finger exercises can be a noninvasive way to:

  • keep your joints flexible
  • improve range of motion
  • relieve arthritis pain

Hand exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support the hand joints. This can help you perform hand movements with less discomfort.

Finally, exercise can also increase the production of synovial fluid, which can improve joint function.

Try the following eleven exercises for osteoarthritis in the hands and fingers.

You can do this exercise anywhere and anytime your hand feels stiff.

  1. Start by holding your left hand out, with all of your fingers straight.
  2. Then slowly bend your hand into a fist, placing your thumb on the outside of your hand. Be gentle and don’t squeeze your hand.
  3. Open your hand back up until your fingers are straight once again.
  4. Do the exercise 10 times with your left hand.
  5. Repeat the whole sequence with your right hand.

  1. Start in the same position as in the last exercise, with your left hand held up straight.
  2. Bend your thumb down toward your palm. Hold it for a couple of seconds, then straighten it.
  3. Bend your index finger down toward your palm. Hold it for a couple of seconds, then straighten it.
  4. Repeat with the remaining fingers on your left hand, one at a time.
  5. Repeat the entire sequence on your right hand.

  1. First, hold your left hand out, with all of your fingers straight.
  2. Bend your thumb inward toward your palm.
  3. Stretch toward 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.
  4. Hold the position for 1 or 2 seconds, then return your thumb to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Do the exercise with your right hand.

Do this exercise a few times a day on each hand. You can try this stretch whenever your hands feel achy or stiff.

  1. Start with your left hand out and fingers straight.
  2. Curve all of your fingers inward until they touch. Your fingers should form the shape of an “O.”
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds. Then, straighten your fingers again.
  4. Repeat on the other hand.

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

  1. Place your left hand flat on a table, palm down.
  2. Starting with your thumb, lift each finger slowly off the table one at a time.
  3. Hold each finger for 1 or 2 seconds, then lower it.
  4. Repeat the entire sequence with the right hand.

Don’t forget about your wrists, which can also get sore and stiff from arthritis.

  1. To exercise your wrist, hold your right arm out with the palm facing down.
  2. With your left hand, gently press down on the right hand until you feel a stretch in your wrist and arm.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds.
  4. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Then, do the entire sequence with the left hand.

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Do this exercise with a small ball, such as a tennis ball or stress ball.

  1. Place the ball on a flat surface such as a table.
  2. Using your right hand, roll the ball from your palm to the tips of your fingers to stretch out each digit.
  3. Roll the ball back to its starting position.
  4. Repeat this exercise with your left hand.

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Try the following exercises with a tennis ball, stress ball, or another soft ball of a similar size. However, if you have damage to your thumb joint or have an active flare in your hands, you may need to avoid this exercise and talk with a doctor about other options.

Only do this exercise a few times per week, with at least 48 hours of rest in between.

  1. Using your right hand, squeeze the ball as hard as you can for a few seconds.
  2. Release the ball.
  3. Repeat this exercise 15 times.
  4. Then, do the exercise with your left hand.

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Do this exercise 3 times per week.

  1. Put one or more elastic bands around all of your fingers and make a loose fist with your right hand.
  2. Rest your hand on a flat surface.
  3. Bend and move your thumb away from the hand.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times.
  6. Do the exercise with your left hand.

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Do this exercise 3 times per week.

  1. Lay your right hand on a flat surface.
  2. Use the left hand to apply gentle pressure to your finger joints. But if your finger joints hurt, you can stretch one finger at a time.
  3. Press for 30 seconds.
  4. Then do the exercise with your left hand.

Make these exercises part of your weekly routine for the best results. A 2014 study found that regular exercising can help reduce hand pain, hand stiffness, and disease activity in people with osteoarthritis.

Talk with a doctor if these exercises become difficult for you to do. A medical physician or physical therapist can recommend more specific exercises for you or other treatments to help your pain.