One of the first areas of your body where you might notice psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is in your hands. Pain, swelling, warmth, and nail changes in the hands are all common symptoms of this disease.
PsA can affect any of the 27 joints in your hand. And if it damages one of these joints, the result can be very painful.
Consider how many routine tasks require the use of your hands, from typing on your keyboard to unlocking your front door. When PsA makes your hands hurt, the pain can interfere with your daily life.
Biologics and other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) act on your immune system to slow the progression of PsA. These drugs should slow or stop the joint damage that causes hand pain, which will help to control symptoms like hand pain and swelling.
While you follow the treatment plan your doctor prescribed, here are a few other tips to help you manage PsA hand pain.
NSAID drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are available over the counter. You can also get stronger versions prescribed by your doctor. These pain relievers bring down swelling and relieve pain all over your body, including in your hands.
Whenever your fingers or wrists get sore, give them a rest. Stop what you’re doing for a few minutes to give them time to recover. You might even do gentle hand exercises to ease any built up stiffness.
Cold helps bring down inflammation and swelling. It also has a numbing effect on tender areas of your hand.
Hold a cold compress or ice pack to the affected areas for 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Wrap the ice in a towel to avoid damaging your skin.
Alternately, you can hold a warm compress or heating pad to the affected hand. Warmth won’t bring down swelling, but it is an effective pain reliever.
A gentle hand massage can do wonders for stiff, sore hand joints. You can see a professional massage therapist, or give your own hands a rub a few times a day.
The Arthritis Foundation recommends a technique called milking. Place your thumb on your wrist and your index finger underneath your hand. Then, slide your fingers up each finger using moderate pressure, as if you were milking a cow.
Splints are wearable devices made from plastic. They support and stabilize painful hands.
Wearing a splint can both relieve swelling and stiffness, and reduce pain in your hand and wrist. See an occupational therapist or orthotist to get custom fitted for a splint.
Exercise is important for your entire body — including your hands. Regularly moving your hands prevents stiffness and improves range of motion.
One easy exercise is to make a fist, hold it for 2 to 3 seconds, and straighten your hand. Or, form your hand into a “C” or “O” shape. Do 10 reps of each exercise, and repeat them throughout the day.
Psoriasis often affects the nails, leaving them pitted, cracked, and discolored. Be very careful when you care for your nails or get a manicure. For one thing, pressing too hard on sore hand joints can lead to more pain.
Keep your nails trimmed, but don’t cut them too short or push down on your cuticles. You could damage the delicate tissue around your nails and possibly cause an infection.
Soaking your hands in warm water with some Epsom salts helps relieve swelling and pain. Just don’t keep them underwater for too long. Spending too much time submerged in water can dry out your skin and make your psoriasis flare up.
Even a minor injury can set off a PsA flare. Wear gloves whenever you do any activity that might damage your hands, like working with tools or gardening.
Look online for gloves made specifically for people with arthritis. They offer more support than regular gloves, and can also protect your hands and relieve swelling and pain.
Corticosteroid injections bring down swelling in inflamed joints. Sometimes steroids are combined with a local anesthetic for more effective pain relief.
Your doctor can give you a shot in each of the affected joints in your hand during flares. The pain relief from these shots sometimes lasts several months.
If you have symptoms of psoriatic arthritis like joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in your hands or elsewhere in your body, see a rheumatologist for a diagnosis. And if these symptoms don’t improve once you’ve started on medication, go back to your doctor to reevaluate your treatment plan.